Take Care Of Yourself
Chapter ten: Turning back the clock
[Characters and setting belong to J K Rowling. Everything else is my own.]
The portrait of Dumbledore nodded, looking serious. "I fear that events are... eventuating," he said mysteriously. "We have delayed too long in wrapping up loose ends. Fortunately, Sirius does not need to take an active part in it, so you should be able to finish the charm today."
"Instead of wrapping up those quote loose ends unquote," Jack-Formerly-Harry frowned.
"I am afraid so. There is always tomorrow, my boy. And I have some ideas how we can begin forming your new identity."
"Well, that's good." Harry shook his head. "I guess I'll get started now, then."
He drew his wand, and left the room.
Silence reigned for a few seconds after the door clicked shut, and then a figure dropped the invisibility cloak it had been holding up.
"It was no problem at all, but you had better leave. You mustn't be seen here."
The figure nodded. "I will need some proper sleep, anyway, soon. Although I believe I have several potions to brew first, amongst other things."
"If you say so."
The figure nodded again, stepped forward, and hesitated. It asked, "What do you think prompted this, Albus?"
The portrait of the Headmaster peered down through half-moon spectacles. "I really can't imagine."
Jack stomped around the boundaries of the garden, wand held aloft, feeling ridiculous. Perhaps the reason the Fidelius Charm wasn't more widespread was that actually casting it was more akin to riverdance than to a normal magic ritual.
With one hand, he grasped at the invisible key-string of the Black wards Sirius had given him full access to, lifting them where necessary to run the thin mesh of magic he was creating underneath. The Fidelius blossomed from the elder wand in ribbons of faint light as he swept it about, slowly weaving the magic together into a net over the whole house.
It was time-consuming, and extremely magically draining, and it didn't help that he kept almost losing control of the spell whenever he stepped on a rogue plant.
Harry paused, knee-deep in nasturtiums, to catch his breath for a moment. He would need a proper break soon. Luckily, he could just 'peg down' the charm with a few flicks of his wand, leaving it half-cast while he recovered. The Fidelius was so draining that nobody would ever have managed to cast it without such stops. Unless you used a whole team of powerful wizards working in shifts. Or maybe, maybe unless you were Dumbledore.
Harry turned to regard the quiet street, and saw an unwelcome sight.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore's feet were almost at the front gate when he locked eyes with a young man who looked very much like James Potter. The ancient wizard rocked back on his heels slightly.
He had almost been ready to see another version of himself, but not the dead risen. What was going on? Judging by the instant look of panic on the young man's face before he ducked down below the level of the overgrown hedge, something nefarious.
Dumbledore's wand appeared in his hand, and he strode towards the gate.
"Oh shit oh shit oh shit," Harry murmured in time with his windmilling arms as he tried to complete the spell. He had fallen to his knees. With his magical reserves as depleted as they were, he knew he had no chance of finishing the finicky Fidelius.
But if the real live Dumbledore became aware of what was going on, there would be oh so difficult questions, and probably the Department of Mysteries, and maybe a life in the spotlight again, and Young Harry taken away again 'for the Greater Good'. He wasn't going to lose anyone this time.
The elder wand lay ridiculously heavy in his trembling palm. He had no hope of completing the spell.
He drew deeper on his magical core than he thought he could, and tried anyway.
Unconsciousness bore him away on gentle wings.
The gate flew open ahead of Dumbledore, who peered cautiously into the garden. He saw the youth fall, and set one foot on the gravel path inside the property. The house wards clustered about him, trying to stop his entry, but he pressed forward, planting another foot on the path.
Then he stepped back again in surprise as a second figure appeared, the silvery folds of an invisibility cloak clustering at his feet. The newcomer looked identical to the first, except a little more tired. For some reason, faint wisps of vapour were wafting from his nostrils.
The words of a Shield charm flew to the veteran wizard's lips, and he sunk into a duelling crouch.
The new James Potter lookalike raised a familiar-looking wand, and Dumbledore felt the massive surge of power flow from him. Some great work of magic was being wrought here.
Dumbledore stepped back once more, almost to the gate, and prepared to flee or fight at a moment's notice.
The flow of energy wavered and halted in the channels of the charm. The second young man staggered, deathly pale, and dropped unconscious onto the body of the first.
Not a heartbeat had passed when a third figure, identical to the first two in every way, appeared. Not from a cloak this time, but growing suddenly from a point of light in a manner Dumbledore recognised. It was absolutely not a mode of transportation anyone outside the grey hood of an Unspeakable or cowl of the Chief Warlock should have been using.
The latest figure looked about in confusion, then seemed to catch sight of Dumbledore, and poked his tongue out. He nodded to himself, raised his hands with a little shimmy like a dance move, and tweaked the strands of magic into their final positions. Dumbledore had a strange feeling, like he ought to recognise the spell, and the words of a disarming hex were passing his lips when, abruptly, the net of magic settled. The charm finished.
The newcomer frowned down at the two slumbering bodies, then stepped over them towards the house, taking a slip of paper from his pocket.
Albus Dumbledore stepped back two steps, without really knowing why, and wondering why the sensation of the footpath beneath his stout boots felt so off. For some reason, he had a strong impression of a face – an oddly familiar face – and also a wrought iron gate.
Of course, he had just passed several wrought iron gates, all the same. Why was one of them so important?
His powerful mind struggled for a moment against an implacable force. There was something... about a place... and an appearance, or disappearance...
Blast the vagaries of old age, he thought.
Dumbledore sighed and turned away from contemplating the skyline, glad he had decided to take this refreshing walk. A change of scenery always expanded the horizons and oiled the mental gears, although he could probably have found a better place to wander past than this row of dirty brick houses in a dead-end street.
And now, he really did have to get to the Ministry.
He hurried off.
"Up up up, come on. Sorry Harry, I mean Jack, but you've got to do this, the window of opportunity is really narrow."
"I... I don't wanna... what huh? What happened?" Jackalope Potter raised his head off the sofa. "Feels like I was... hit by a... rhinoceros. Rampagin'. Rampaged by a rhinoceros."
"Mm... thanks, ah, Moony. I... was I drinking?" Jack tilted the flask, and immediately regretted it. "Pepper-up Potion? I thought we urgh. I thought we didn't have any left?"
"You just brewed it."
"Just brewed it."
Jack finished the rest of the potion, and shook himself, peppermint-flavoured steam pouring from his nose and ears. "Ah. Okay. That makes sense. Wait, I wasn't drinking, was I? I was trying to cast the Fidelius. I- Dumbledore's here!"
He staggered to his feet.
Remus folded his arms and frowned. "Yes, yes. Would you listen? It's been almost eight hours. You need to go back now, and finish the job."
"Go back? Oh... ah, I see. Wait, why couldn't you? Portrait-Dumbledore could have showed you the charm."
"You said it had to be you."
"Oh. Okay. How far back?"
Remus glanced up at the clock. "Seven hours. You'll need to go in exactly two minute and twenty-two seconds."
"Why not a full eight? These things can all go to a maximum of eight hours back in time. You could have let me sleep another hour. My magic still feels all loose and woolly. Speaking of sleep, who's that?"
Jack pointed to the copy of himself who lay unconscious on the sofa opposite, underneath the windows.
"Oh, I see. The me who's been giving all these orders, then?"
Remus winced. "No. Come on, follow me, you have to be back in the garden."
"Ah." Jack fumbled out his time-turner as they hurried down the stairs. "Timey-wimey stuff?"
"Timey-wimey stuff. By the way, do you have any idea why Sirius is upset with me for calling him a blast-ended screwball? I don't have any idea what that is, and I've certainly never called him one."
"No clue. Elaborate meta-joke? Dementia? I just hope it isn't timey-wimey stuff. Hey, look, the Fidelius Charm is done. Who did that?" Jack frowned at the powerful charm he could faintly detect around the property.
Remus gave him a pointed look.
"Oh, right. You know, I don't even know if I'll be able to finish casting it with my magic as diminished as it is."
"Too bad. You're going back anyway, since that's what happened. No, you need to stand right there. No, there, in that muddy patch."
"Fine. Now?" Jack began spinning the time-turner on its fulcrum.
"Eight seconds. Seven... Six... Five..."
"Wait, if I appear right as I lost consciousness the first time, doesn't that mean I'll only have-"
"Doesn't matter... Two... One... Go. Go!"
"...I hate closed-loop time travel."
"Up, come on, get up. Sorry Jack, but you need to hurry, I left it a little longer but the window of opportunity is still narrow."
"I... I don't need... can't you just... oh god not again. What is this, the third time? What happened?" Jack Potter tilted his body and fell, with great precision, off the sofa. He lay face-up in a beam of weak sunlight. "Feels like I was... what was it? Rampaged... by a... rhinoceros. Again. Has there been a... mass escape from London Zoo?"
"Come on, drink this."
"Ugh... Moony, my throat still hurts, do I have to... I won't be tasting anything but peppermint for days... gluh... I wasn't drinking this time, was I?" Jack finished the flask of Pepper-up Potion in between half-sensical mutters.
"No." Remus unfolded his arms. "And before you ask, yes, you just brewed that one, too."
"But I'm gone," Jack said lucidly through a cloud of peppermint steam, staring at the sofa opposite.
"No, the other you."
"But that was me."
"The other other you."
"How many of me are there?"
"Don't ask. It's not worth it."
"If I die of Pepper-up overdose because of you, Moony, I'm going to haunt the shit out of you." Jack staggered to his feet.
"Okay. Where are you going?"
"Out to the garden, to go seven hours back in time."
"But when I went back in the garden the first time, there were two of me unconscious at my feet. And then there was the time I had to drink that other potion, but that was inside. So this must be time for me to pass out in the garden again."
"No. That must be some other time. Right now, you need to go to the spare room, and go eight hours back. Take these instructions and only read them when you get there."
Jack took the slip of paper resignedly. "But that gives me time to spare before I need to finish the spell. I'll need to take my invisibility cloak so I won't be seen. And why the spare room?"
"Albus said so. He'll be waiting for you when you arrive. Oh, and take this. By the sounds of it, you've already drank it. But you forgot to give it to me to give to you earlier, so you have to take it back to leave on the table for you to pick up and give to me."
"...I hate closed-loop time travel."
"Argh... blargh... oh." Jack lay still and looked at the ceiling for a while. "So I'm in the kitchen this time."
"It was the only internally consistent way to do it." Remus folded his arms and held out a flask, which Jack regarded with loathing, then accepted.
"I don't know which I hate more: myself, for plotting all this, or Pepper-up Potion, for fuelling it. What time is it?"
"You don't really need to know."
"I suppose not. Instructions? Thanks."
Jack swung his legs down from the table, onto the floor. "Any idea why I had to drink a potion I don't remember brewing, to knock myself, instead of using up all my magic and falling unconscious? I mean, that still has to happen, doesn't it?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about. But one of you said that you made a mistake with your calculations. You had to fall unconscious a total of three times because you had already woken up three times. This one should be the last, which means that piece of paper should make everything clear."
"Nope." Remus grinned.
"Okay. Where do I have to be?"
"In the garden again, and you have to go back the full eight hours."
"Do I get to actually finish the spell this time?"
"I assume so."
"Yeah, I think I get this now. So then I'll brew the potions I must have already given you, to give to me at various points... including the knock-out one I remember having to both take back and collect because I forgot to give it to you... except now I have to remember to forget to give it to you."
Jack looked down at his watch wearily. "So I'll have to go back once more to pick that up again and give to you, and pretend to be the other me that doesn't get knocked out, and hide from him. And that will put me the earliest in my timeline I've been, and then I'll be the me that doesn't cast the charm or brew the potions, but just hides somewhere until this is all over.."
Jack and Remus looked at each other. "...I hate closed-loop time travel," they chorused.
"Remus, you need to take this time-turner and note, and go back six hours. You'll need to give it to the only conscious me at that time, so I can give it to you. Then you'll need to hide for six hours."
"I forgot to give me the note to give to you to give to me to say to leave the potion to leave on the table, since I forgot I already forgot to give it to you in the first place. Oh, and I've been thinking - you'll need to call Sirius a blast-ended screwball at some point, since I remember you telling me you don't remember doing that and I don't remember telling any version of you to do it, and this is presumably the last version of me. So unless we used polyjuice potion, and there's no more up-to-date version of me that has sent me any instructions at any point of time to that effect, I guess it has to be you who does it. And then hide after that."
Remus opened his mouth, but Jack wasn't finished.
"Also, don't forget to tell me to tell you to tell the third me, when he wakes up, that he forgot to give the potion to you to give to me earlier, and that he'll have to take it back to leave on the table for me to pick up and give to you. And one last thing, I forgot to include in the instructions to the fourth version of me, an instruction to copy out the instructions for the second version to give to you to give to me, so you'll need to take this other slip and switch the papers at some point while he's unconscious."
"...Please tell me you're kidding."
"I don't see what you're whining about," Sirius grumbled, flicking through the sheaf of parchment. "I'm the one who has to sign all of these in blood, with blah blah blah about intent and soundness of mind and all of that. My own blood! It hurts! And there's like a dozen places to initial, on top of that!"
He glared at the end of the blood quill.
"You just have to wander around time doing pointless things and drinking potions. It's a picnic in comparison."
Jack stared at him. "Uh-huh. Yeah. Sure, Padfoot. It's a walk in the park. So why don't I go get some polyjuice potion, and we can do a swap."
Sirius wrinkled his nose. "Nah. I don't know what happens to polyjuiced blood when you change back again, but I'd hate for it to invalidate these bloody forms. Uh, no pun intended."
Jack gave him a piercing look from the chair opposite. "And if you did start time-travelling, the urge to deliberately try to stuff it up would be too great."
"...And the urge to deliberately try to stuff it up would be too great, yeah, yeah." Sirius abruptly dropped the quill and jerked his head towards the door. "Footsteps, someone coming upstairs. Do you need to hide?"
"Nah. All the instruction papers except the one I'm currently following – even the ones I had to copy out but not carry out – say to stay out of the library all day. I figure that means I'm safe to hide out here, as current me."
"Better not. I'm sure there's more Pepper-up to come, and that could be a nasty combination."
Remus stuck his head through the doorway. "Oh, good, you're drinking. Apparently I need to hide out in here all day."
"What? But there's still instructions I haven't given you to give to me when I wake up, yet."
Remus lifted the time-turner from around his neck and grimaced.
"...Ah. Brandy, then?"
"Where's Hermione?" Sirius asked after a while, rubbing his bleeding arm absently.
"Staying in," she answered briskly from the locket inside Jack's shirt.
"She tried to move into one of her other portraits in the house," Jack explained, closing his eyes wearily. "Apparently that doesn't work when you're a time-turned version of yourself. The non-travelling version is watching Young Harry."
"Well, as long as someone is," Remus frowned. "Wait, no, I remember looking in all day and he was fine. So the, uh, other me was – is – looking in. But he's not meant to know about this me yet until he goes back in time and becomes me, so I can't check that he is."
"But you remember it, so he already has. Or will."
Sirius looked between the two of them with a pained look. "I think I'll stick to just mutilating myself with this stupid traditional quill. Somebody explain why I'm the one filing the adoption papers, anyway?"
Remus nodded, putting down his glass. "Jack's existence is an anomaly, and the papers he's presumably going to get will be quasi-legal."
"Dumbledore mentioned something about that this morning..."
"I know. You told me."
"Ah. But I haven't yet."
"But you will, earlier. Make sure you remember to."
"Shut up shut up shut up. What about Remus?" Sirius asked.
"He'd be shafted by the current werewolf legislation," Jack said, frowning. "And even if he wasn't, we're talking about me – sorry, about Harry Bloody Potter here. Pretty much any attempt to adopt him is going to be challenged. Since you're actually his godfather, you've got the only truly unassailable claim."
Sirius shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Jack, but Harry for now... I want to apologise for getting myself sent to Azkaban, and leaving you to the Dursleys. And for my future self's stupidity too. I completely abandoned you. I was a terrible godfather."
"Padfoot, I forgive you, and your now-nonexistent future self. For that matter, I forgave you in the nonexistent future. And now we can make sure that Young Harry has a nicer life. And, you know, save pretty much the whole world too. But actually-" Jack leaned forward to look Sirius squarely in the eye - "I do have one very important thing to ask you, which, as my sort-of-godfather, you must tell me."
"What is it?"
"Was that box of 'toys' hidden in the wine cellar, yours?"
Sirius blinked. "'toys'?"
"Yes, 'toys'. Colourful, leather and rubber, feathers and chains toys."
"No. Merlin, no. In the wine cellar?"
"Yeah. Kreacher didn't claim them, so I suppose they were your little brother's, then..."
"Oh god! Oh no! I don't want to know, I don't want to know..."
"Or possibly your mother's."
Sirius began dry-retching.
Lupin smiled faintly. "What did you do with them? I'm just asking," he added hastily at Harry's incredulous look.
"Wrapped them in a parcel with an automatic unpacking charm and sent them to Snape. I can only hope he opened it at the breakfast table."
→ Here it is, back after a long delay. I've also done some very minor edits on all the previous chapters. There may still be delays with the fic as I acclimatise to postgraduate study.
→ Time-turners pretty clearly work via closed time loops in canon. So you can't alter the past, fullstop. But who's to say that, when something terrible happens, you can't just go back in time, stop it happening, and confund yourself to think it happened? Or use magic to create an illusion of it happening? That would be completely consistent. And it will be a convenient defence to use if I accidentally mess up any timey wimey stuff in this story.
→ I like reviews, and read them all, even if I don't often reply to them.