PotterTime 6: Harry Potter and the Redemptions of the Overlooked
February 4, 2021
When I talk about the best redemption arcs in the Harry Potter series, you may think I would speak of someone like Severus Snape (ugh), Draco Malfoy (been there, done that), or even Percy Weasley (don’t even get me started). You probably wouldn’t expect me to speak on my favorite redemption in the series: Kreacher the house-elf and Regulus Black. With Regulus’ story never being fully explored and the elf with minimal screen time in the Harry Potter movies, it’s hard to even recognize their redemption. The books, however, delve deeper into the complex struggles Kreacher faced during and after his master’s death (warning, spoilers).
To understand Kreacher and Regulus Black, you must first understand the Black family dynamic. While Mrs. and Mr. Black weren’t Death Eaters, they were avid supporters of Voldemort and extremely prejudiced. When Sirius Black, the eldest son, was sorted into Gryffindor he made friends with “mudbloods” and “half-breeds”, completely opposing his parents harsh beliefs. Sirius was disowned and burned off of the family tapestry when he was 17. Regulus, the youngest son in the family, was sorted into Slytherin just like everyone else in his family had been for centuries. Regulus was successful in his parents’ eyes; he was the Slytherin team Seeker, did well in school, and seemed to support their pureblood idealist agenda. While Sirius, who had healthy, uplifting, encouraging outside influences like the Potter family and supportive friends, was able to escape the toxic Black family brainwashing, Regulus could not. Surrounded by blood purity maniac propaganda in his home and Hogwarts House, Regulus grew up to support Voldemort just like his parents molded him too. Most likely, Regulus feared being exiled by his family like his older brother had if he dared express a different opinion. At 16, he became a Death Eater and joined Voldemort’s ranks. Two years later, he was dead.
The series first introduces the previous Black family house-elves to us on page 61-62 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The book describes, “…a row of shrunken heads mounted on plaques on the wall. A closer look showed Harry that the heads belonged to house-elves. All of them had the same rather snout like nose.” We soon find out that the heads on the wall belonged to Kreacher’s family. Kreacher has been living his whole life as a slave to a terrible family who, as most masters treated their house-elves, probably treated him very badly. It is later revealed that Regulus Black was one of the few who treated Kreacher with respect. Kreacher had lived in a house where the only thing he had to look forward to was serving the Black family, and then dying so that his head got shrunk and stuck on a wall with the rest of his kin. The Blacks weren’t nice people. On page 78, Mrs. Black’s portrait screams, “Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds, mutants, freaks, begone from this place! How dare you befoul the house of my fathers-” If she was that bad just as a portrait, I’m sure she was much worse in person. As house-elves were typically treated harshly for any minor mistakes they made, Kreacher probably faced plenty of violence in the house of Black.
Harry Potter first learns who Kreacher is on page 76, but meets him on page 107. The book shows Kreacher mumbling, “…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 in 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….” The next page says, “’Master always liked his little joke,” said Kreacher, bowing again, and continuing in an undertone, “Master was a nasty ungrateful swine who broke his mother’s heart-” “My mother didn’t have a heart, Kreacher,” Sirius snapped.” Throughout the story, Kreacher is terrible to the visitors in the house. After serving the Black family for generations, he wholeheartedly believed in their ideals. If he didn’t believe in them, he likely would have been severely punished. His entire existence was dedicated to the Black family, and once they were all dead, he lived for years alone in the ever dirtying house of his old masters. That would mess someone up, especially given the way that Regulus Black died, which we will get into later. It’s no surprise that Kreacher obsesses over upholding his dead masters’ ideals, attributing to calling the guests at Grimmauld Place awful names and being extremely disrespectful to them. The Order of the Phoenix represented everything against what his masters stood for, and Kreacher couldn’t comprehend it.
While at Grimmauld Place, the guests took the liberty of cleaning the house up (as Kreacher had failed to keep up with his work once the family was dead and gone, likely due to his misery at their absence). Sirius wants to clear out the house of all old belongings and bad memories, but Kreacher wants to hold on to the only things left of his previous life. Page 117 describes, “Several times, Kreacher sidled into the room and attempted to smuggle things away under his loincloth, muttering horrible curses every time they caught him at it. When Sirius wrested a large golden ring bearing the Black family crest from his grip Kreacher actually burst into furious tears and left the room sobbing under his breath and calling Sirius named Harry had never heard before.” Sirius had every right to get rid of whatever he wanted; it was his house and as the last of the Black line, his belongings. Still, Kreacher was not ready to part with the belongings of his old masters and was obviously still in mourning. This probably contributed to the awful way he treated Sirius and his guests. He most likely saw them as destroying the home that his old masters were so proud of and taking away the Black family heirlooms to be scattered among those who wouldn’t care for their significance.
Towards the middle of the book, Kreacher disappears. Later on page 830, Dumbledore tells us, “…when Sirius, apparently, shouted at (Kreacher) to ‘get out.’ He took Sirius at his word and interpreted this as an order to leave the house. He went to the only Black family member for whom he had any respect left…. Black’s cousin Narcissa, sister of Bellatrix and wife of Lucius Malfoy.” After he does this, it’s reported on page 516 that he, “seemed to be in a better mood” and that, “his bitter muttering had subsided somewhat.” House-elves typically live their entire lives in servitude/slavery and most are brainwashed by society to fear being free. Many elves believe being freed by your master to be of the utmost dishonor. Kreacher believes in these same ideals, and his master’s traditions had been ingrained in him. Sirius did not treat Kreacher well, as Kreacher reminded him of the toxic home he had grown up in. Page 834 explains, “He had no love for Kreacher, because Kreacher was a living reminder of the home Sirius had hated.” Kreacher was extremely unpleasant and rude, often using slurs to the faces of the home’s guests. A house-elf aims to please its master, and seeing as Sirius did not support Mrs. and Mr. Black in the slightest, Kreacher longed to serve someone in the way that he had once before. The Malfoys, dark wizards similar to the Blacks, were the perfect masters to serve.
Harry has a vision that Sirius Black has been taken by Voldemort in the Department of Mysteries and comes up with a plan to see if Sirius was still at Grimmauld Place by using the floo network (a network used by wizards that uses fireplaced to transport them or part of themselves to another fireplace grate). When Harry uses the floo to send his head to Grimmauld Place, it is Kreacher that greets him instead of Sirius. On page 741, the book reads, “’Where has Sirius gone?” Harry yelled after the elf. “Kreacher, has he gone to the Department of Mysteries?” Kreach stopped in his tracks. Harry could just make out the back of his bald head through the forest of chair legs before him. “Master does not tell poor Kreacher where he is going,” said the elf quietly. “But you know!” shouted Harry. “Don’t you? You know where he is!” There was a moment’s silence, then the elf let out his loudest cackle yet. “Master will not come back from the Department of Mysteries!” he said gleefully. “Kreacher and his Mistress are alone again!’” Unbeknownst to Harry, Sirius wasn’t at the Department of Mysteries at all. Kreacher was lying, Sirius was still at the house. Kreacher was a pawn in the Death Eater’s plan to lure Harry to the Department of Mysteries. Unbeknownst to Kreacher, his lie turned out to be true. I like to think that Kreacher didn’t know that Sirius would actually end up meeting his end at the Department of Mysteries. Sirius, though completely against everything his parents were for, was the only remaining master he had to serve (though, I suppose, if Sirius was disowned then technically Kreacher didn’t need to serve him, but did so begrudgingly anyways). I don’t think Kreacher wished for Sirius to go; Harry was the one Kreacher was trying to get to the Death Eaters. Even still, Kreacher’s lies lead to the early and heart wrenching death of Sirius Black.
Harry is obviously extremely distraught at the death of his godfather. When he finds out that Kreacher ultimately leads to Sirius’ untimely end, he is rightly furious. Page 832 says, “’Kreacher’s a lying- foul – he deserved-” “Kreacher is what he has been made by wizards, Harry,” said Dumbledore. “Yes, he is to be pitied. His existence has been as miserable as your friend Dobby’s. He was forced to do Sirius’s bidding, because Sirius was the last of the family to which he was enslaved, but he felt no true loyalty to him. And whatever Kreacher’s faults, it must be admitted that Sirius did nothing to make Kreacher’s lot easier-‘” The black family deeply rooted it’s hateful ideology in Kreacher’s mind and it unfortunately reflected in his behavior and actions. Perhaps if Kreacher knew what Regulus Black had truly died for, he would not have turned out the way he did. His character develops later in the series in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but first we see him again in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
After Sirius’s death, his house, all his belongings, and Kreacher were left to Harry. In chapter three, it is obvious that Kreacher does not wish to serve under Harry and that Harry doesn’t want Kreacher either. Harry’s first official order to Kreacher is, “shut up.” Almost immediately, after Kreacher accepts Harry’s orders, Harry sends him away to work in the kitchens at Hogwarts with many other house-elves. Harry wants nothing to do with Kreacher, and for good reason. It’s understandable and expected that Harry doesn’t want to associate with the house-elf who led to his godfather’s death. Kreacher was once again left on his own without his master.
Kreacher doesn’t make another appearance until chapter 19, when Harry orders him to trail Draco Malfoy with help from Harry’s house-elf friend, Dobby. Kreacher unhappily obliges. In chapter 21, Kreacher and Dobby return with intel on Draco’s Death Eater doings. At the end of the book, Harry discovers that the horcrux he and Dumbledore had discovered was a fake. Instead of being the Locket of Slytherin, it was a mock locket with a note inside that read, “To the Dark Lord[,] I know I will be dead long before you read this but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret. I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can. I face death in the hope that when you meet your match, you will be mortal once more. R.A.B.” (page 609). Harry had no idea how much the locket he had discovered intertwined with Kreacher’s past.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry, Ron, and Hermione find themselves hiding out at Grimmauld Place once more as they prepare to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic. Harry discovers that Regulus is R.A.B. (Regulus Arcturus Black) on page 186. Harry concludes that Kreacher must have stolen it when he can’t find it anywhere and calls Kreacher to his aid. Kreacher tells Harry that Mundungus Fletcher stole the locket. Then page 192 reveals, “’- and the locket, Master Regulus’s locket, Kreacher did wrong, Kreacher failed his orders!” Harry reacted instinctively: As Kreacher lunged for the poker standing in the grate, he launched himself upon the elf, flattening him. Hermione’s scream mingled with Kreacher’s, but Harry bellowed louder than both of them: “Kreacher, I order you to stay still!” He felt the elf freeze and released him. Kreacher lay flat on the stone cold floor, tears gushing from his sagging eyes.” Kreacher is obviously distraught that he failed his previous master. When house-elves fail orders, they typically punish themselves for not following orders. One wonders how harshly and for how long Kreacher punished himself for not following through with Regulus’s orders, and if or how that affected the way he treated Sirius and his friends.
Then in chapter ten, Kreacher reveals what really happened to Regulus. Regulus, a young Death Eater who just wanted to make his parents proud, volunteered Kreacher to partake in a task for the Dark Lord. Voldemort brought Kreacher to the cave he was to hide his horcrux in and forced Kreacher to drink the potion in the middle of an underground lake full of inferi. The book describes on page 194, “’Kreacher drank, and as he drank, he saw terrible things…. Kreacher’s insides burned…. Kreacher cried for Master Regulus to save him, he cried for his Mistress Black, but the Dark Lord only laughed…. He made Kreacher drink all the potion…. He dropped a locket into the empty basin…. He filled it with more potion. And then the Dark Lord sailed away, leaving Kreacher on the island….’” Kreacher only escaped the inferi because Regulus Black called Kreacher back to him. Regulus was upset; he didn’t want to cause Kreacher pain, only serve Voldemort faithfully.
Page 195 and 196 continues, “’Master Regulus was very worried, very worried,” croaked Kreacher. “Master Regulus told Kreacher to stay hidden and not to leave the house. And then… it was a little while later… Master Regulus came to find Kreacher in his cupboard one night, and Master Regulus was strange, not as he usually was, disturbed in his mind, Kreacher could tell… and he asked Kreacher to take him to the cave, the cave where Kreacher had gone with the Dark Lord…’” Regulus had discovered Voldemort’s secret. He knew that Voldemort had created a horcrux, and knew that Kreacher knew how to get it. Regulus knew what Voldemort had done and was doing was wrong, and with no regard to his safety he took action to stop it from happening. He probably would never imagine that horcrux wasn’t the first, nor the last, that Voldemort had concealed his soul in.
Instead of making Kreacher drink the potion, Regulus drank it himself. That in itself speaks volume to Regulus’s character. Most wizards wouldn’t think twice about forcing a house-elf to endure such a horrible thing again, but Regulus did. He ordered Kreacher to switch the real lock with the fake one and leave and destroy the real one, so Kreacher was forced to leave his dying master behind in the cave. Page 197 says, “Kreacher tried everything, everything he knew, but nothing, nothing would work…. So many powerful spells upon the casing, Kreacher was sure the way to destroy it was to get inside it, but it would not open…. Kreacher punished himself, he tried again, he punished himself, he tried again. Kreacher failed to obey orders, Kreacher could not destroy the locket! And his Mistress was mad with grief, because Master Regulus had disappeared, and Kreacher could not tell her what had happened, no, because Master Regulus had f-f-forbidden him to tell any of the f-f-family what happened in the cave….” For Regulus Black to abandon his family’s views that he had been brought to believe in and defy Voldemort in such a way is incredible. All Regulus wanted was to be the perfect son that his elder brother failed to be for his parents. He managed to realize that the way he was living was wrong, discovered Voldemort’s biggest secret, and launched a plan to take Voldemort down in the span of two years. In doing so, he still managed to protect his family from the Dark Lord. Regulus Black deserved to go down as a hero in Harry Potter history, but instead he is often tragically overlooked.
Harry ordered Kreacher to find Mundungus Fletcher, the man who had stolen the real locket from Grimmauld Place, on page 201. Kreacher does not return until page 219, bringing not only Mundungus, but also Dobby. Mundungus calls all of the things he stole “junk” on page 221; Kreacher immediately leaps into action, the book describing, “There was a sound of pattering feet, a blaze of shining copper, an echoing clang, and a shriek of agony: Kreacher had taken a run at Mundungus and hit him over the head with a saucepan. “Call ’im off, call ’im off, ’e should be locked up!” screamed Mundungus, cowering as Kreacher raised the heavy-bottomed pan again. “Kreacher, no!” shouted Harry. Kreacher’s thin arms trembled with the weight of the pan, still held aloft. “Perhaps just one more, Master Harry, for luck?’” This segment shows several small details in the change in Kreacher’s behavior. For one, he calls Harry by his “title” of Master, showing that Kreacher fully accepts working for Harry and that he now lays his allegiance in him. This is a huge change of heart for Kreacher, as he was adamantly against working under Harry in the first place. Secondly, he deeply cares about fixing his wrongs by getting the locket to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. He is eager to fulfill his orders from not just Harry, but from his past master Regulus to make amends and put his soul at ease. Thirdly, Kreacher is actually adorably hilarious.
In the following days of the trio staying with Kreacher, his attitude completely changed. He ceased his disrespectful speech and insults and dedicated his life to making Grimmauld Place comfortable and helping Harry, Ron, and Hermione in any way possible. Gone is the prejudiced house-elf who worshiped his previous horrible masters. Instead, Kreacher tries his best to make up for his past mistakes. In chapter 12, we see that Kreacher has begun cleaning the house (something a house-elf, very much unlike me, enjoys doing tremendously), cooking, laundry, and overall taking care of the trio. Kreacher’s life changed drastically, and he finally seemed at peace with his past. Regulus’s locket (the fake one, that is) had been returned to him and he had finally accepted the wrongs he had done and strived to fix them with rights. Unfortunately, in a daring escape from the Ministry of Magic, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were forced to leave Grimmauld Place, and Kreacher, behind at the end of chapter 13 as they accidentally revealed their location.
Our last glance at Kreacher is during the Battle of Hogwarts in chapter 36. The book reads, “The house-elves of Hogwarts swarmed into the entrance hall, screaming and waving carving knives and cleavers, and at their head, the locket of Regulus Black bouncing on his chest, was Kreacher, his bullfrog’s voice audible even above this din: “Fight! Fight! Fight for my Master, defender of house-elves! Fight the Dark Lord, in the name of brave Regulus! Fight!” They were hacking and stabbing at the ankles and shins of Death Eaters, their tiny faces alive with malice, and everywhere Harry looked Death Eaters were folding under sheer weight of numbers, overcome by spells, dragging arrows from wounds, stabbed in the leg by elves, or else simply attempting to escape, but swallowed by the oncoming horde.” The character development here is *chef’s kiss*. Kreacher went from being a Voldemort sympathizer and giving Death Eater’s inside information to openly defying them and leading a house-elf revolution to end Voldemort’s reign. He went through terrible struggles and unthinkable woes, but in the end he pulled through and fought bravely to help his masters, both old and new, finally vanquish the Dark Lord.
Regulus Black and Kreacher the house-elf deserve so much more recognition than what they were given. The movies stripped them of their character development and story, leaving only empty shells of vague plotline. Regulus managed to defy Voldemort and plot his downfall whilst still keeping his family safe, and Kreacher progressed from his forced ideals of previous masters to find his own voice and fix his past mistakes. These characters are incredibly overlooked and, in my opinion, have the best redemptions in the Harry Potter series.