Never Underestimate a House-Elf: Chapter One

Summary: What if Harry thought of more than just steak and kidney pie, and called Kreacher to them as soon as he realized Hermione had apparated the trio away from Grimmauld Place? A very different camping trip ensues. 

Characters: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Kreacher, Luna Lovegood, Dobby, Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom

Pairings: Harry Potter/Hermione Granger/Ron Weasley, Luna Lovegood/Ginny Weasley, Ginny Weasley/Neville Longbottom, Past Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter, Kreacher/Dobby, Past Hermione Granger/Lavender Brown, minor Hermione Granger/Luna Lovegood

Author’s Note: I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to post a new Harry Potter fanfiction after everything that J.K. Rowling has said and done. I do not want to promote her works. That said, the way that she treats house elves is garbage. I hope this fic meets a higher standard than that pathetically low bar. You bet this veers away from canon. Unfortunately the legal rights to these characters belong to J.K. Rowling & Warner Brothers and whoever else she sold the rights to. But the joy I took in dismantling her structures and making them queer as hell is all mine. One other note regarding house elves: aside from occasionally slipping into the third person, the house elves in this story will primarily be speaking in standard English because I do not have the time nor the patience to emulate JKR’s minstrelry when it comes to them.

Many thanks to my beta, K. Alexandra, who keeps me honest when it comes to what tense I’m using, and my partner, Transreal_Clouden, who listens to me talk about house elves ad infinitum and has been a supporter of this fic since its inception. Finally, I would be remiss not to credit #WizardTeam and the Time Room. Bayana Davis and Robyn Jordan let me stumble into their virtual podcast studio and pose the leading question of this fic during the episode in which I featured. This story loosely follows the discussion we had on the podcast but I made some significant changes, even in this first chapter. For those of you who have listened to the episode, don’t be surprised if things turn out very different than you might expect.

Updates every other Monday!

(For ye of little faith who are used to my A Trio of Tricksters update schedule, the fact that this fic has lots of prewritten chapters may be the reason there haven’t been as many recent updates as there could be. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Chapter One

Harry opened his eyes and was dazzled by gold and green. What had happened? They were obviously free of the Ministry, to his great relief, but why weren’t they at Grimmauld Place? Suddenly his heart leapt as he heard a groan. Sitting up quickly Harry saw Ron and Hermione next to him, and all thoughts were gone from his mind as he saw Ron, halfway between his own form and Cattermole’s, his whole left side drenched in blood.

“What happened to him?” Harry asked Hermione as he dashed over to join her at Ron’s side.

“Splinched,” she replied shortly, already busy examining Ron’s shoulder, her hands covered in his blood. “Harry, quickly, in my bag, there’s a small bottle labelled Essence of Dittany —”

Harry grabbed her bag from where it had fallen on the ground and quickly summoned the bottle before handing it to her. Carefully she poured three drops onto the wound on Ron’s upper arm, where a great chunk of flesh was simply missing, left behind in their hurried apparition.

“Hermione, why aren’t we at Grimmauld Place?” Harry asked, as they watched the wound seal over, the skin stretching across itself and taking the appearance of being several days old.

“I don’t think it’s safe to go back there Harry. Yaxley grabbed hold of me, the Death Eaters can get in now, we are secret keepers since Dumbledore’s death, and, well, I’ve given him the secret now haven’t I?” Hermione said quietly. Harry’s eyes widened before he stood up suddenly.

“Kreacher!” he shouted. There was a pop, and the house-elf appeared.

“Master!” Kreacher croaked as he appeared with a pop, and Harry was relieved to see that he was alone. Harry never thought he would see Kreacher smile — or that he would be glad to see that smile, but nevertheless he was.

“Harry” Hermione hissed. “That was incredibly dangerous, Ron is still unconscious!”

“Yes, and if I had waited even seconds longer Kreacher could have been taken by Death Eaters!” Harry hissed back, and Hermione looked away, her lips in a thin line as she warred between shame, anxiety, and fear.

“I’m going to set up some protective barriers,” Hermione sighed. “I’m glad you’re alright, Kreacher.” Kreacher, who had never liked Hermione, even with his change of heart, did not acknowledge this, and she sighed again before she pulled out her wand and began to cast. 

“Did you make it out alright, Kreacher? Did they make it into Grimmauld?” Harry asked.

Kreacher shook his head. “I sealed the house, Master.”

“You what?” Harry asked, frowning.

“I sealed the house. There is a spell that was cast a generation ago that stops anything and anyone from getting in or out. When I heard the nasty Death Eater trying to get in after Master and his friends apparated away I did the first spell, and then I went out the back and did the second. I was just going to apparate to Hogwarts to wait to see if Master would call when you did.”

“I’m glad you made it out Kreacher, and I’m relieved you sealed the house. If they can’t get in, they might think we’re still hiding there and waste efforts trying to enter. And Kreacher, would you please consider calling me something other than Master?” Harry tacked the last part on, sounding hopeful. Kreacher simply blinked at him.

Ron, who Harry hadn’t noticed was awake, snorted. “I think he’s waiting for you to give him an order, mate.” 

Harry sighed, because his dislike of giving orders was the entire point. “Kreacher, would you please call me Mr. Harry?” Kreacher nodded frowning. 

Harry turned to Ron and pointed. “As for you — I was going to feel sorry for you on account for the fact that you’re splinched but if you’re going to be an arse —” Harry said jokingly with half a smile and Ron laughed as well, Hermione huffing at both of them before coming back from casting her spells.

“We should be protected now, at least somewhat in case anyone tries to trace our or Kreacher’s apparition. It won’t protect us fully, but we’ll know if they’re coming. How do you feel, Ron, truly?” Hermione asked, her voice turning from slightly annoyed to soft.

His smile turned into a bit of a grimace. “Lousy. Where are we anyway?”

“The woods where they held the Quidditch World Cup. It was the first place I thought of. Enclosed, undercover. Even safer now that I’ve put up the enchantments, but they can be taken down when we want to move on. But I’m not sure Ron should be moved. The dittany is all the healing I feel comfortable doing with my limited skills,” Hermione frowned at the looks on Harry and Ron’s faces. Both of them were thinking of what had happened the last time they had gone to the first place Hermione had thought of — but had either of them thought of anywhere in either time of crisis?

Deciding that they wouldn’t get anything done simply standing around on top of twigs they set up the tent Hermione had brought — previously owned by Perkins at the Ministry, now the property of Arthur Weasley and on loan to the trio. Once they had it set up Kreacher got to busily making them tea — he apparently had something that was akin to Hermione’s beaded bag, only it stored food rather than all the worldly possessions of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. It contained tea, fruits, vegetables, and their promised Steak and Kidney pie, held in stasis.

They sat around the table, Kreacher joining them at their insistence and only because in the single room tent there was nowhere else to go except the bathroom. Ron with some difficulty — upright was a struggle for him, they’d had to levitate him into the tent. Harry and Hermione had attempted to place him in one of the bunks but he had stubbornly refused and insisted on sitting with them at the table. They could all tell that he was unwell, however, due to the fact that he seemed unwilling to have more than a few bites of his pie, actually putting a loaded fork back down on his plate, still looking pale.

“What’s next, mate?” Ron asked, looking at Harry.

Harry paused, mid-bite, before he resumed, put the clean fork down on his plate and chewed self consciously, mindful of the fact that Ron, Hermione, and Kreacher were all staring at him. He half wanted to snap at them and ask why he was to be the one in charge, before the thought sunk in again, as it often had since they had been on the run and hiding from the Death Eaters and Voldemort that they were truly on their own. Dumbledore was dead. Destroying the horcruxes was the mission he had been entrusted with, and it was up to him to try and come up with a plan. He swallowed before speaking.

“We’ll need to move as soon as it is safe to do so. We can’t afford to stay in one place too long, not unless we can find somewhere properly secure, and given that we don’t even have our NEWTs yet I don’t think we can put up enchantments good enough to stop Vol—”

“Don’t say his name!” Ron hissed. Harry rolled his eyes. Ron had always had such a problem with hearing Voldemort’s name, Harry had never understood.

“And why not?” Harry snapped. “Dumbledore —”

“Mr. Harry?” Kreacher interrupted. Harry blinked and turned to Kreacher, who had never intentionally interrupted him before, usually keeping any comments he made to be snide remarks in the background.

“Yes, Kreacher?” Harry asked.

“I do not think it wise, Mr. Harry, to be saying the Dark Lord’s name. When Kreacher was with the Black mistresses, Kreacher heard tell that the Dark Lord was planning to place a taboo on the name, and that any who uttered it would have his followers called to him at once. It might break our protections,” Kreacher offered. Harry, Ron, and Hermione stared at Kreacher, horrified. Had they really come within two syllables of another fight with Death Eaters?

“Well, OK, so we’ll keep on the move. That’s a good start to our plan,” Hermione said shakily, sounding far more calm than Harry felt.

“Yeah, um,” Harry ruffled his hand through his hair as he stared down at his food. “We’ll need to figure out food… Kreacher, will you still be able to shop for us?”

“Of course, Mr. Harry.” Kreacher nodded, looking almost affronted.

“We should probably stock up, we have no idea how long we are going to be doing this for, we need to take precautions,” Hermione hummed. Harry nodded and looked around the tent. It was a small space for three teenagers and a house elf. And though Kreacher had been good to them ever since the revelation about Regulus and the locket, he couldn’t deny that he didn’t relish the thought of spending so much time in close quarters with the person who had led Sirius to his death by sitting at the feet of the Malfoys and Lestranges and listening to everything that they had to say. Although that did give him an idea. It was mad. It put them at entirely too much risk, but if they could really trust Kreacher… it just might work.

“Kreacher, would you please stand guard outside the tent, and warn us if anyone comes near?” Harry asked suddenly. Kreacher nodded, and disappeared with a pop. They heard him reappear outside the tent, and Harry cast a one-way silencing charm as he lent forward toward Ron and Hermione. He opened his mouth to speak, conscious of their curious glances before yet another thought occurred to him. “Hermione, you did  get the locket, didn’t you?”

“What?” Hermione asked, distracted. “Oh! Oh, yes, of course, I have it!” She said hastily, reaching for her bag and clutching it protectively.

“Blimey!” said Ron. “No one tells me anything.”

“We were a bit busy, in case you didn’t notice,” Harry said shortly. “That’s great Hermione. Listen, guys, we have the horcrux, we can destroy it, but there’s more, and we don’t know where they are, we don’t know where Vol- sorry, Riddle is, or what he’s up to, but,” Harry paused and licked his lips. “But, we can find out.”

“Harry, you are supposed to learn occlumency, you can’t let him inside your head!” Hermione cried out.

“Oh would you stop about that, Hermione! I’m not letting him inside my head any time soon, not if I can help it, and I never can!” Harry snapped.

“If you just tried —”

“Oh come off it, that’s not even his plan!” Ron grumbled, stabbing at his pie, which was starting to grow cold, Kreacher’s charms wearing thin now that he was not there to maintain them. “Why would he have sent Kreacher away for that? The menace has heard plenty of your fights.”

“Kreacher is not a menace Ron,” Harry snapped, before reigning himself in, because he knew that, previous to the past few weeks, he probably would have said the same thing about the house elf. “But look, Hermione, this has nothing to do with going into the head of a dark lord, or letting him into mine. It’s about getting a spy into the heart of his forces.” At Ron and Hermione’s puzzled faces Harry continued. “Dumbledore told me, after Sirius died, that Kreacher had been welcomed by Bellatrix and Narcissa. That they had accepted his rebellion from Sirius. What if we stage another rebellion? What if, in the chaos that is us escaping the Ministry, Hermione and I inadvertently free Kreacher, allowing him to serve the Black family once more?”

“OK, and why would we want to serve our heads to You-Know-Who on a silver platter, exactly?” Ron asked before shoving another forkful of pie in his mouth, seemingly having regained his appetite. “Also where am I in this story.” 

“You’re at the burrow with spattergroit Ron and isn’t it obvious? We aren’t really going to free Kreacher, we’re going to pretend, manipulating the house elf bond. It’s ancient magic, I’ve studied it. Whoever created it was a master, cruel, cunning, powerful beyond perhaps even they knew.”

“Yes,” Harry nodded. “I’ve thought about it, and Kreacher was able to get through all of Riddle’s many enchantments, just to get back to Regulus. Riddle was considered unparalleled by all but Dumbledore, and yet foiled by a house elf. It’s poetic that he be foiled again by the same one.

“This is mad Harry, he can’t be their elf, not when he’s yours!” Ron argued.

“But maybe he can,” Hermione said thoughtfully. “If Harry crafts the orders carefully enough, and Kreacher plays them exactly the right way. If Harry does things like instruct him to follow the orders of Bellatrix and Narcissa as if he were a Black elf with the exception of harming innocents where it will not blow his cover, use his magic to fake the creation of a bond with Bellatrix and/or Narcissa, falsehoods such as those. It really could work. It’s madness. It could fall apart at our feet and we could be dead at dawn… but it could work,” Hermione’s voice filled with equal parts trepidation and wonder.

“So, should we call him back in?” Harry asked.

“If you want to take watch, sure,” Hermione said distractedly. “Keeping one up is a good idea, and I need to make some notes about this before we bring it up with him and make sure that we write up exactly what the plan is to a T. I want this ironclad before we put it in place.”

NUaHE NUaHE NUaHE

Kreacher took the news of his new task with a solemnity that Harry had not anticipated, and it was in that moment that he finally appreciated what Hermione had been trying to tell him all these years about the slavery house elves were subjected to. Kreacher was going to be putting his life on the line to spy for them, and he had no choice but to do so because of Harry’s orders. 

“Kreacher, is this task something you want? You could also stay with us —” Harry started to offer, ignoring Ron’s fervently shaking head in the background.

“Master Regulus is dead because of the Dark Lord.” Kreacher said firmly. “The Death Eaters are bad people for supporting him. Kreacher loves Bellatrix and Narcissa, but he must avenge Master Regulus. Kreacher can do this. Kreacher will do this. Give the orders Mr. Harry.” Harry still hesitated before Kreacher ground out a word Harry never thought he would hear from the house elf. “Please.”

Harry took a deep breath and swallowed back the bile in his throat. OK Potter, you can do this.

NUaHE NUaHE NUaHE

Harry was cooking again. We’ll, baking. It was odd how he had started to like cooking for Ron and Hermione, when he had so hated cooking for the Dursleys. Kreacher had acquired a large amount of food for them, but neither Ron nor Hermione was a particularly good chef, and so it fell to Harry, who had done a fair share of helping his aunt Petunia around the kitchen, to teach them how to do things such as make a fry up and cook rice and roast a chicken. Hermione knew some, more than Ron at least, but she was still a novice, having been banned from the kitchen at a young age due to her perceived clumsiness, which was actually just accidental magic acting up because of her frustration at her lack of skill. Hermione prided herself at being good at everything, but in this case what had stopped her from learning her way around a kitchen was her frustration about her inability to learn her way around a kitchen. The irony was not lost on her.

Although Ron and Hermione were starting to learn — how could they not when the three of them were constantly together on what was functionally an indefinite camping trip in a tent which was functionally a one-bedroom flat — Harry still did the majority of the cooking. Today he was baking a cake — it was Hermione’s birthday and while they may be on the camping trip from hell and taking turns wearing a locket that screwed with their emotions he wasn’t going to let said locket stop him from making his best friend the cake she deserved. One did not turn eighteen every day. Harry was just putting the finishing touches on the frosting — which he had admittedly used premade frosting provided by Kreacher’s trip to a muggle store while disguised as a human — when Hermione came in from her shift on watch.

It was midday now, the time when they usually all came together and left only monitoring charms outside on the perimeter. She was tired as she sat down at their small kitchen table with Ron, who was reading over a defensive magic textbook, but set it down when Hermione came in. They were all tired, really, not having made progress in weeks. Anger stirred at him, cold where the locket stirred against his chest, but softened as Harry observed that she had pulled her hair up into a kind of bun, the many long thin braids she had been sporting that morning neatly tucked away. Now that he thought about it, she had started keeping her hair in that micro braid style ever since they left Grimmauld Place, a change from at Hogwarts, where she often kept her hair either down or pulled back in a single braid.

Catching Hermione’s curious look, Harry realized that he had been staring and, wondering when he had become so obsessed with his friend’s hair and doing his best to shake those thoughts from his mind he instead retrieved the cake and placed it in front of her with a smile that was barely forced.

“Happy birthday Hermione!” Hermione’s eyes widened as she perked up at the sight of the chocolate cake, and giggled at Harry and Ron’s out of sync attempts to serenade her with the birthday song. He could make it through this war, Harry thought, as long as he had Ron and Hermione.