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In defence of Kreacher

How did Kreacher the house-elf turn into the muttering, Dark Arts-loving trickster he became?

A Kreacher illustration
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are a subservient member of a cult. That cult might be a bit peculiar, with some certainly eccentric practices, but it is your cult. You love it. Plus, you live for an exceptionally long time so you see the cult flourish through the generations and gain extraordinary power.

One day everyone in that cult is sent to Azkaban or dies, and you are left to moulder in the cult’s HQ for ten years without seeing anyone or hearing any other ideas than the ones you’ve been taught for decades.

Then suddenly the disgraced son of the Biggest Cheese in the cult returns to the HQ and starts ordering you around, and invites people in who you deem to be against everything you’ve ever learned. Worst of all he expects you to feed them, clean up after them and to be in all ways a slave to these wizards who are, in your opinion, filthier than the rags you use to mop the floor.

An Illusration of Kreacher
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

You are starved of love. Even your ostracised new master is worth trying to please. But he seems to despise you and disregards you entirely when he isn’t issuing orders or flinging you bodily out of the room.

You are angry, you feel a strong loyalty to a situation long past and to people long dead.

This, more or less, is the position Kreacher finds himself in when we meet him in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Left alone for far too long in Sirius Black’s ancestral home at twelve Grimmauld Place, with all manner of Dark objects – not to mention a cheerful display of his ancestors’ severed heads – Kreacher has gone batty.

The kitchen in Grimmauld place
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The average house-elf’s lot is difficult enough. Many are trapped in the servitude of wizards, aligned to pure-blood families whose bidding they are compelled to perform without question.

Quite how sad their predicament is can be seen in Kreacher’s story even more strongly than in Dobby’s or Winky’s or any of the other house-elves we meet in the Harry Potter universe.

Kreacher’s nature has been so twisted by the environment that nurtured him that ‘his life’s ambition is to have his head cut off and stuck up on a plaque just like his mother’, as Ron says.

‘Well – well, if he is a bit strange, it’s not his fault.’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

That the Dark magic-loving Black family is no more, and that its sole survivor for a time, Sirius, is determined to tear down every monument, every tapestry, to throw out every heirloom representing its former glory, is not something that Kreacher is prepared to accept.

When Sirius gives permission for Grimmauld Place to be used as the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, an organisation founded by Dumbledore to fight You-Know-Who, Kreacher is appalled when the Weasleys, Harry, Hermione and other Order members arrive in droves.

‘... smells like a drain and a criminal to boot, but she’s no better, nasty old blood traitor with her brats messing up my mistress’s house, oh, my poor mistress, if she knew, if she knew the scum they’ve let into her house, what would she say to old Kreacher, oh, the shame of it, Mudbloods and werewolves and traitors and thieves, poor old Kreacher, what can he do ...’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Sirius makes the fatal error of underestimating Kreacher. Believing him unable to leave Grimmauld Place except on his orders, he doesn’t realise that an angrily bellowed order of ‘Out!’ is interpreted by Kreacher as an order to go outside. The elf then goes in search of Sirius’s cousins Narcissa Malfoy (née Black) and her sister Bellatrix Lestrange (née Black), family members he views as more worthy of his service.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The fact that he is then able to pass vital information about Sirius through them to Voldemort is instrumental in the death of Harry’s beloved godfather in the Department of Mysteries – a fact that makes Harry loathe Kreacher even more.

When Grimmauld Place is bequeathed to Harry after Sirius’s death, Kreacher becomes his unwilling servant.

‘Kreacher will do whatever Master wants,’ said Kreacher, sinking so low that his lips almost touched his gnarled toes, ‘because Kreacher has no choice, but Kreacher is ashamed to have such a Master, yes –’
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry is understandably unwilling to be a Master to Kreacher, but when Ron and Hermione take refuge in Grimmauld Place while they are hunting Horcruxes, he comes to learn, not for the first time, that he (and Sirius) should have listened to Hermione earlier.

On Dumbledore’s advice, the S.P.E.W. founder had warned Sirius to treat Kreacher with respect, something she continued to urge an understandably angry Harry to do when he inherited him.

The product of generations of twisted treatment is, of course, so starved of love that the merest sign of affection sends him into paroxysms of gratitude – as Harry realises when he gives Kreacher Regulus Black’s locket as a thank you for his help in locating the Slytherin locket Horcrux.

Slytherin's Locket and Voldemort's Horcrux
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1

A newly won-over Kreacher is a bewildering thing: he dons an apron, scrubs Grimmauld Place within an inch of its life and makes it something of a home for the trio of friends to whom he devotedly serves fresh soup and hot rolls.

This sudden and complete switch reveals how wrong Sirius was in his treatment of Kreacher. If he’d given him the consideration, the elf might never have betrayed him and would almost certainly have come around in time to the Order’s views over the Dark Lord’s.

‘Sirius was horrible to Kreacher, Harry, and it’s no good looking like that, you know it’s true. Kreacher had been alone for a long time when Sirius came to live here, and he was probably starving for a bit of affection. I’m sure “Miss Cissy” and “Miss Bella” were perfectly lovely to Kreacher when he turned up, so he did them a favour and told them everything they wanted to know. I’ve said all along that wizards would pay for how they treat house-elves. Well, Voldemort did ... and so did Sirius.’
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Kreacher at Grimmauld Place from the Order of the Pheonix
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry comes to feel real affection for the elf and Kreacher features in one of his first thoughts after the dust has settled on the Battle of Hogwarts. Okay, maybe he just wanted a sandwich, but it also shows he might’ve forgiven Kreacher a little. And if Harry can, maybe so can we.

... he turned away from the painted portraits, thinking now only of the four-poster bed lying waiting for him in Gryffindor Tower, and wondering whether Kreacher might bring him a sandwich there.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Each month Pottermore will try to defend the more… questionable characters from the Harry Potter stories. Come back next time when we make the case for Petunia Dursley.