title: my Brave Master
fandom: Harry Potter
characters/pairings: Kreacher, Regulus, Sirius, Mr. and Mrs. Black, Bellatrix, Narcissa
rating: G
warnings: character death (as in book)
summary: Kreacher and his Master.
notes: spoilers for Deathly Hallows. as far as i can tell, Sirius is four or five years older than Regulus, but it's a little unclear, even to the people at the lexicon, so i'll just call it four to five years and put it in this nifty note so we can all just agree to go with it... and it may seem that i'm too, erm, sympathetic, let's say, to Kreacher, but i'm assuming that he changed a great deal after Regulus' death, given that he changed a great deal after Harry started to treat him right.

The day the young master was born, it rained, all night the night before and all day long. Powerful claps of thunder shook the house as the mistress screamed and wailed. Master Black paced up on the third floor, smoking the pipe the mistress did not approve of, and leaning over the railing to listen, perhaps for the sound of a baby's cries amidst the mistress'.

Young Master Sirius, however, was using his parents' distracted state to be... mischievous, as only Young Master Sirius was capable of being. How a child his age was able to set fire to the sitting room sofa was beyond Kreacher, but with all of the Mistress'... helpful relatives underfoot, the fire to attend to, and the Mistress' bellows, Kreacher was wishing he could take his Mistress' place... the sounds of her giving birth sounded preferable to him than juggling catastrophes like Kreacher was.

Kreacher knew, however, that he was not allowed to think in that manner, so he kept his ears down, and did the best he could to keep the house from collapsing on the Mistress.

The baby was born at a quarter past eleven at night. The young master had been sent to bed, had tried to escape out the window, had thrown a temper tantrum, and finally succumbed to a sleeping spell that Kreacher was sure anyone would forgive him for, were they to find out about it, about twenty minutes prior. The Mistress, having spent almost all day in labor, burst into tears the moment the baby was out, and refused to stop, throwing her own tantrum. Kreacher came into the birthing room with tea, and barely had the tray out of his hands when the baby was thrust into his arms so the midwife could tend to the mistress. The Master was even called to her side, though he did stop momentarily to look at the babe. Kreacher wasn't at all comfortable holding the squirming human baby, but when the child started to fuss a bit, he quickly scooted out of the birthing room, lest the Mistress take out her ire on the creature that was trying to vie for attention.

It was late, and he didn't know what else to do, so he took the babe to his cubby in the kitchen, and used elf magic to produce a diaper and a blanket and a bottle of something the babe could drink. However, after a bit of rocking, the wee babe fell asleep in Kreacher's arms, and Kreacher was too scared of disturbing him to move until it was sunrise, and Kreacher knew the Mistress would be in want of her breakfast before long.

The nursemaid was there to take the child from him shortly after, although he had a great deal of difficulty preparing the morning feast with the tiny one in his arms. Three days later, he was christened Regulus Arcturus Black. Kreacher thought it was a very fine name for a lovely little baby, but the Young Master broke up the ceremony singing a dirty ditty about 'Reggie Wedgie' and the contents of his diaper, which caused the Mistress to lose her temper.

Kreacher had deep and grave doubts that the wee Master would grow to become a man...

Kreacher took to muttering under his breath, very, very quietly or else it annoyed the Mistress. However, in all of his memory, he couldn't recall a time when the house was as noisy, and it was all thanks to the Young Master! Well, the Mistress' moods had gotten more... erratic as well, but Kreacher attributed that to the Young Master, too. And then there was the matter of the Mistress' nieces, whose visits were becoming more and more common...

The young lady with the flowing blonde hair was quite beautiful and charming, and she had impeccable manners, as befitting a young witch, but despite being older and even in school already, the older niece was nothing short of a holy terror. She had a nasty habit of kicking Kreacher whenever he was within the reach of her pointed boots.

Kreacher would be very happy when the Christmas break was over, that niece was back in school and too far away to kick.

He had levitated four bottles of French wine around the mistress, avoided the young master as he tried to magic some tar into the blonde lady's hair, and disapparated just in time to avoid the terror's pointed boot. The clock chimed midnight, but it wasn't up to him to put the young master to bed, and his chores were completed, so he slipped into his cubby under the counter to sleep, however...

He wasn't alone.

"Younger Master," Kreacher said, hesitating... The Master Regulus was easily the most adorable human child Kreacher had ever seen, with his large and watery eyes and trembling bottom lip, but it would appear as if his opinion was not a popular one in the household. The Master preferred his elder son, and while the Mistress showed preference for the Younger Master, Kreacher could not be certain that it was a good thing for the Younger Master. "Mistress... has already expressed her displeasure at finding you sleeping down here... please, Master Regulus..."

The Younger Master, however, simply looked up at Kreacher with fat tears on his cheeks, and reached out for him. "Kreachie. Scary. Kreachie!"

Kreacher immediately pulled the Younger Master into his thin, bony arms. The Younger Master sniffled, rubbing his dripping nose on Kreacher's shoulder. Kreacher was so deeply touched by the honor he couldn't speak, but the Younger Master just crawled into his lap, anyway, and fell asleep, apparently without nightmares.

Kreacher would disapparate him into his bed later, when he was sure the Younger Master would remain asleep until morning. Until then

Selfishly, Kreacher enjoyed holding and being held.

"Well, you see, I'm going to be far too busy to be writing home, Reg," the Young Master sighed loftily. "For one thing, I'll be quite busy with Quidditch..."

"You know, son, it's very rare to be picked for the team in your first year..." the Master tried to interject nervously, but his elder son just waved him off testily as he wolfed down his breakfast.

The Younger Master still stood at his brother's side, refusing to take his seat, clutching the hand-me-down teddy the Mistress had taken from her elder son and given to her younger in a fit of rage. "Dun wan' Siri to go! Wanna stay with Siri!"

The Young Master, however, just rolled his eyes. "That's rather selfish, don't you think, Reg? I mean, look at you. Still in footie jammies. I'm about to start school! Hogwarts! A magical educational career of unparalleled brilliance is in the offin', and you're standin' there in m'way, dripping from the nose. Really poor form, mate, really poor form."

The Younger Master started to sob quietly, which only made his older brother more exasperated.

"Honestly, by the time you get to Hogwarts, they'll be puttin' you in the girls' dorm! Never wanted a little sister, you know!" As he got up out of his chair, he kicked the Younger Master aside. The Younger Master quickly ran out of the kitchen and up the stairs, slamming his bedroom door.

It would have been nice if that had been the worst of the Young Master's rocky departure ended with that unpleasantness, but then the Mistress descended, bedecked in her most spirited dress... a deep green crushed velvet floor length gown with silver piping.

Kreacher was certain that one or both or all of them would lose their lives. The Young Master's face was red as he ducked from the pans, pots, dishes, and knives that the Mistress was sending at him, her face white with rage, the Young Master's eggs still dripping from her chest. Kreacher hid under the sink, sticking his long fingers in his ears as he quietly recited the order in which the house was to be cleaned. There was a loud crash, a scream, a bang, an explosion, and then the kitchen was coated in fine black ash. Kreacher kept his hands over his ears and his eyes tightly shut, but he still heard the Mistress cry out shrilly, "You spoil that brat until I can't even bear to look at him!" She stomped off, wailing dramatically.

The Master and the Young Master shuffled about a bit, waiting to be sure the Mistress was off to inhale her salts, and therefore far out of their way. Slowly, Kreacher pulled his hands away from his ears, and opened his eyes. He was covered in soot, too, although he was afraid to identify the source. He poked his crooked nose out in time to see the Master pat the Young Master on the shoulder. "Try to remember, son... Slytherin is a bit of a family tradition."

"I know, dad," the Young Master said, his hands balled into fists, his narrowed eyes lowered.

Kreacher bit his lip.

After the Master had cleaned the Young Master up enough to take him to the station, Kreacher snuck out, and quickly cleaned the kitchen, replacing the missing bench, the broken pots, and the shattered dishes. He did his best with the scorch marks on the wall, but he needed to use some cleaning potion on that.

First, however...

He'd hidden them in the pantry, so no one else would take them. He crept up the stairs extra quietly, so the Mistress wouldn't hear him. He slipped into the Younger Master's room, looking around carefully to be sure that he wasn't detected... It seemed safe, though. Quiet.

The Younger Master was on his bed, sobbing quietly under a mound of blankets. Kreacher moved silently to him, but he started to hum gently. If he approached the Younger Master without making a sound, he would just scare the poor child. He set the small plate with the blueberry scones with clotted cream down on the bedside table, and he climbed up onto the bed carefully, putting his hand down on what was most likely the Younger Master's shoulder. "There, there, Master Regulus. He'll be home for Christmas. Before you know it, you'll even be in school together."

Kreacher, however, was not looking forward to the day when he'd have to see the Younger Master off, but that was his own problem, and certainly nothing he'd trouble the Younger Master with, no, not at all.

The blankets started to move and shake, and then, the Younger Master's nose appeared, quickly followed by the rest of his head. "Kreachie..." he sniffled. He hadn't used that nickname in a while, so Kreacher had nothing else to do but open his arms and hold onto the Younger Master as tightly as he could.

"-in his day, too. Of course, nothing like you. Oh, how fine you look in those green and silver Quidditch robes! Surely, the only suitable colors there are! I'm so glad I had the Parsons' girl take your picture. Although, that might have caused trouble. Naturally, you're very handsome, and perhaps I shouldn't have encouraged that girl... I'm not entirely sure about the purity of that uncle of hers. Very suspicious man. Great fondness for pants, and the latest Muggle music. That stuff will make your blood harden, I have it on good authority." The Mistress wiggled her finger at her son, who was walking ahead of her, unconscious, seemingly, of his mother behind him, or anything she said.

He stopped before the coat rack, and slowly started to remove his long wool coat and his boots.

"Ah, and your cousins will be here this evening. They're very excited, of course. They said there was no chance of seeing He Who Must Not Be Named during this holiday, but Bellatrix, that dear girl, she's become quite helpful, it would seem, and she's talked to him about you, and, well, I promised I'd let them tell you, but it seems like you might not have to wait so long after all!"

The Younger Master who was the only Young Master now froze, and turned to look at his mother, his eyes wide.

"Aren't you happy?" she asked him piercingly.

He straightened up slowly and turned to smile at his mother. "Of course, Mother. Why wouldn't I be? I'm going to... go up and rest... so I'll be ready, then, for when they come."

She patted him encouragingly on the back. "Go on, then, son, go on. Such a good and handsome boy. I'm so lucky to have you." He nodded absently, still smiling, and started for the stairs. "KREACHER!" she shrieked, and even the Younger Master who was the only Young Master now jumped. "Oh, you lazy thing, get some tea and crumpets for my boy, now, will you? I can't believe you didn't have them ready for the minute my Regulus came home! All this time, we've been waiting for Christmas holidays and this is how the poor boy is treated?"

Kreacher opened his mouth to beg for forgiveness, but the Younger Master who was the only Young Master now spoke first. "Mother, please. Kreacher knows that I prefer hot chocolate and graham crackers after I've had a chance to change my clothes."

Mollified, but still upset that she had to stop mid-rant, the Mistress gave Kreacher a perfunctory grunt. "Uhn. Good house elf. Now, Regulus, go on up and have a nice rest. I'll have the elf bring up your new dress robes when it's time."

Kreacher bowed to the Mistress, of course, and then scurried off to the kitchen. The Younger Master who was the only Young Master now was right, of course. Kreacher had the hot chocolate warming on the stove, and graham crackers all ready on a plate. He got out a fine linen napkin for the Younger Master who was the only Young Master now, and poured out the hot chocolate, placing it carefully on the tray, and levitating the tray even more carefully. He took the back stairs up, listening to be sure the Mistress wouldn't come bounding out to upset the tray.

Fortunately, though, he made it to the Younger Master who was the only Young Master now's room without incident. There, the young boy Kreacher once rocked in his arms in his cubby under the counter stood before the mirror, just... looking at himself. Kreacher set the tray down, and then turned to look him over as well.

"You are looking well, Master Regulus," he said quietly.

The Younger Master who was the only Young Master now turned to him and smiled brightly. "Kreacher. It's good to see you again, at least. Thank you. I s'pose it's not bad if you look well, if nothing else."

Kreacher wasn't sure what he meant by that, but it seemed worrisome to Kreacher. The Younger Master who was the only Young Master now was too big for Kreacher to hold and care for properly now. He had to do it himself, and Kreacher wasn't at all sure he was doing it right... "And... have you any word on Master Sirius?"

Regulus knelt down, and smiled at him like Kreacher was the only friend he had in the world, but his eyes were sad. He put his hands on Kreacher's shoulders. "Kreacher. There isn't a single person who has contact with Sirius who would talk to me. I've heard some things, but..." His face took on an ashen pallor, and he looked haunted. It frightened Kreacher, who was a house elf, after all, and not at all equipped to help someone like the Younger Master who was the only Young Master now...

"Master Regulus," Kreacher said gently, putting his long hands on the Younger Master... the Young Master's arms. "Don't fret. Master Sirius survived the Mistress. He will survive his blood traitor friends, too."

The Young Master barked out unexpectedly with laughter. "Well, I don't think you're far off there, Kreacher. Sirius is... he's..." The Young Master choked up a bit, coughing to cover it up, but Kreacher could tell. Kreacher edged closer, and patted the Young Master on the back. "Kreacher, can I tell you a secret? Don't ever let anyone know, all right? But... I'm terrified. Really terrified. I don't know... I don't know if I think this is the right thing. And I... I don't really want to meet him..." Regulus wiped his face with his hand, and for a moment, it seemed like he was shaking.

And then, just when Kreacher started to shake, the Young Master smiled brightly at him.

"Ah, well. Can't let Mum be any more disappointed than she already is, right? Better to rule in hell and all that, so..." He rubbed Kreacher's head, and sighed deeply, pushing on Kreacher to stand up. "Thank you, Kreacher. You know, I think... I think as long as you're still here, it's good to be home."

Kreacher straightened up, feeling so honored, he might just cry. He didn't deserve such praise from his Master! "Thank you, Master Regulus. This house isn't home at all when you're gone."

Kreacher stumbled into the kitchen, unable to keep himself on his feet. It was probably because of the tears. They were probably why he couldn't see. He pressed the locket into his hand until the snake design felt like it was cutting, but it wasn't enough.

He followed orders because he was happy when he followed orders, when he obeyed, because that meant that he was pleasing his Masters and Mistresses. He followed orders because he was a good house elf and he would never think to do anything else. He had never once before thought of not following orders, not once, not even when the Mistress ordered him to burn all of the former Master Sirius' things right in front of poor Master Regulus...

Poor Master Regulus.

Kreacher thought about where poor Master Regulus was and what he was feeling and what was happening to him and oh! Poor Master, poor brave and beautiful and kind master, the poor Master that Kreacher had held as an infant and cradled and cared for, poor Master Regulus...

Kreacher had never once thought of disobeying orders, but more than anything in the world, he wanted to go back and disobey orders and he wanted to go back in time and make it so his poor Master didn't drink even a single drop of that vile potion, and he wanted to save his poor Master...

Kreacher had also never been sick in his life, but he found himself evacuating his stomach into the kitchen sink. He'd never known a house elf to be sick before. But when he thought about poor Master Regulus...

His beloved Master Regulus... so kind... so gentle... handsome and sweet and smart and fast and a champion Quidditch player, and Kreacher had never seen Quidditch, but the Mistress was always very impressed with that, and his Master...

His Master had died for him.

Kreacher was violently sick again, and since he had nothing left to evacuate, he started to beat his head against the floor.

Still, still, still, the snake on the locket bit into his skin. That was right, of course. Of course. He had one more task to perform. And then an idea so wonderful filled his head and heart that he actually stopped beating himself to look at the locket.

After he finished that order... after the locket was destroyed... he could die. Yes, yes, he could die once he had completed his Master's orders. His Master was dead, and though the Mistress was still alive and in need... she didn't need Kreacher. Another house elf would do for her. Yes.

It would be fine. As soon as he destroyed the locket, he could join Master Regulus... brave and kind and loyal and good Master Regulus, a wizard above all wizards, who had sacrificed his life for Kreacher... Kreacher didn't understand it, but he knew it was because of the locket. It was because the locket existed, and once it no longer did, he could be with his Master again.

Feeling immensely better, Kreacher snuck the locket into his cubby, into his blankets. He knew it was not a simple thing, and he needed privacy, because the Mistress could not know... know anything... so he had to be sneaky and careful and good. And once his orders were complete...

"KREACHER!" the Mistress' shrill cry came out, and then the Mistress herself stomped into the kitchen. "Kreacher, where is Regulus?"

Kreacher shook his head frantically. He couldn't tell... couldn't say a word... but the Mistress would never see her beautiful son again and it was because he died for Kreacher...

"Oh, that child! You'd think, with all the glorious things he's up to, he'd have a mite bit more responsibility. I've got to schedule his tailoring appointment but that boy keeps putting it off..." She threw her hands up in disgust and stomped off, still muttering to herself.

Kreacher had chores to do, but he couldn't move further than to crawl into his cubby, and curl up into a small ball.

The Master would not need new robes where he was, no, those white hands and arms and the white teeth of the white dead bodies... Kreacher shuddered, and he started to cry again.

There would never again be a wizard of the likes of Master Regulus.