Well, my dear readers, we have reached the end of our little foray into the damaged minds of traumatized island boys. I hope you enjoy this final installment! (And I'm sorry this is a day later than I promised - I literally had no time yesterday!)
Disclaimer: Am I British? No. Dang, guess that means I don't own these ideas. Just the plot. :)
Loss of Innocence
Of Aftermaths and Reconciliations
Last chapter re-cap:
The world snapped back into full movement, and the chanting slammed into the Hogwarts students like a wave of madness, echoing in their ears and sending them into hysterics, some cracking under the pressure.
Through the sudden pounding in Harry's head, he somehow managed to focus long enough to watch Roger grab a primitive knife and yank Ralph's head back once more. The dark boy positioned the sharp blade over the delicate skin of Ralph's neck, a menacing, gleeful look in his eye that gave him the appearance of a lunatic. Ralph didn't flinch, though Harry could see his pulse fluttering frantically under the blade.
Roger smirked and prepared to end it all by slitting Ralph's throat. He lifted the blade a little in preparation for drawing it quickly across –
Harry started in surprise, not expecting the familiar voice to interrupt. He watched as Jack Merridew - the real one, not the one in the vision - threw himself in front of the real Ralph who was still kneeling in the sand, watching dispassionately as he (or at least the younger, Boggart version of him) was about to be murdered.
Roger froze immediately and scowled, before he suddenly disappeared in a dizzying swirl of mist. The class could only stare in mute surprise as the scene around them evaporated into similar mist and vanished.
Jack somehow found the strength to move, Harry discerned as the class floated in some sort of strange, foggy limbo, he threw himself in front of Ralph and tried to save him. He ended up between Ralph and the Boggart, so now the Boggart must be confused. Different people means different fears, after all.
Unfortunately, the Boggart didn't stay confused for long. There was a loud crack and the mist transformed once again.
The terrified, bewildered DADA class suddenly found themselves in some kind of Muggle courtroom. On the defendant stand, Jack Merridew sat in handcuffs and an obnoxious orange jumpsuit, his eyes scarily blank once again.
A faceless jury sat in the jury box, and a nondescript judge was presiding over the court from behind a large oak desk. The judge's gavel pounded the desk with a resounding clack as he called the court to order.
After the entire room went silent, the judge stood up and addressed the jury, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to decide the fate of a boy who was marooned on an island for approximately a month and a half. The defendant: Jack Conall Merridew, age thirteen. The prosecutor: Lieutenant Charles Lachlan Balthazar, the rescuer of the marooned island-boys. The charges: the murders of Piggy and Simon. May God have mercy on your soul."
The judge sat down, and the prosecutor stood up, coming to stand before Jack and looking down at him sternly. For an instant, the Lieutenant's face was superimposed under the image of Ralph, but then the mirage was gone and it was just a young Royal Navy officer once more.
So, Harry thought, Jack's fear must be getting blamed for Piggy and Simon's deaths, which means he definitely had something to do with them.
Harry bit his lip in frustration. Just what happened on that island? he wondered.
However, just as the prosecutor was about to ask Jack the first question, the vision was suddenly cut off and the class found themselves back in the DADA classroom. Some finally succumbed to the drama they had just witnessed and fainted, collapsing onto nearby desks or the floor in jumbled heaps.
Harry, who was feeling extremely nauseous and overwhelmed, managed to keep his cool by steadying himself on a nearby desk, taking deep breaths to control his racing heart.
He looked up just in time to see Professor Lupin standing in front of Jack and Ralph, a white orb floating ominously in front of him.
Why is Professor Lupin afraid of the moon? Harry had no chance to ponder this as said Professor flicked his wand and shouted, "Riddikulus!" which transformed the moon into a balloon that whipped around the room briefly before returning to the cupboard where the Boggart was kept. Lupin muttered something and the door slammed shut behind the Boggart, locking it away again.
Harry barely registered the door to the classroom swinging wide to admit both Professor Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey; he was too focused on the cause of the entire Boggart catastrophe, who was currently curled in a fetal position at the front of the room. Ralph was sobbing silently into his arms, no sound escaping his shuddering chest as fat tears rolled down his cheeks.
Harry noticed Jack watching Ralph suffer for a moment, before the redhead collapsed to his knees beside Ralph and wrapped his arms around his shoulders, pulling the distraught boy protectively into his chest. It sent chills down Harry's spine to see such a kind, quiet, charismatic boy reduced to tears in the arms of his worst enemy (although, by now Harry was beginning to wonder if Jack was really Ralph's enemy at all. Jack may have been a bit creepy at times, and caused Ralph nightmares, but he had stood up for Ralph in front of Draco – his own Housemate – and had saved him from the torment of the Boggart. Regardless of their past, that had to count for something).
Jack began whispering to Ralph quietly, trying to calm him down, and Harry was just close enough to make out what he was saying.
"Shh, Ralph, it's alright," Jack murmured soothingly, "You're safe now. We're not on the island anymore. We're back in society, just like you wanted. Everything's gonna be okay."
His words only served to make Ralph even more hysterical; his sobbing increased and he began fighting to get out of Jack's arms. Despite his fervent struggles, Jack only held him tighter.
"Ralph, look at me," he tried again. He seized hold of Ralph's face and made the blond look him in the eye.
"Listen," Jack said earnestly, "I. Am. Not. Hunting. You. Do you understand?"
Ralph froze at his words and gazed back at the redhead in shock. He stopped crying and stared blankly at Jack, before his face abruptly twisted in anger.
"Why should I believe you?" Ralph hissed, glaring at Jack with wild eyes. He suddenly looked as fierce as the savage boys from the island that the Boggart had generated; like a cornered animal willing to do anything to escape with its life, "You betrayed me, Jack, remember?"
Jack looked unrepentant, "That was then, and this is now. Trust me."
Ralph snorted incredulously, "Sucks to trusting you. You know what Piggy said is true; the hunt never ends until the prey is caught, no matter what. You made that rule, if I recall correctly."
"I did," Jack acknowledged, "but that was on the island, Ralph. I remember back when I thought we could be friends, and I know you thought it too, but things got in the way. I am trying to apologize for my mistakes and move on, Ralph. Why can't you do the same?"
Ralph narrowed his eyes, his face flushing angrily, "Simon and Piggy are dead because of you. I was hunted like an animal because of you. All of us were nearly stuck on that island because of you. How am I supposed to forgive that?"
"If you recall," Jack snapped, "it was because of me that we were rescued at all."
"Oh, yes," Ralph scoffed, "you set the whole island on fire trying to flush me out of hiding, and by some miracle the Navy saw all the smoke and came to the rescue just in the nick of time. Meaning, of course, just before you managed to catch me and -"
Jack ran a hand through his hair in frustration and interrupted Ralph, "You're really stubborn, you know that?"
Ralph seemed to have forgotten his previous fear of Jack in favor of being furious, Harry observed. They were arguing like an old married couple, which, were they in any different circumstances, Harry would have considered hilarious, but as it was he was still very shaken by what had taken place.
As he looked around the room, Harry met some of his classmates' haggard eyes and realized he wasn't the only one who sensed a distinct loss of innocence; for better or for worse, the terrors the class had just witnessed had scarred them for life and they would no doubt be unable to look at the world in the same light ever again.
"Harry," Dumbledore, who had watched the interaction between Ralph and Jack with a noticeable lack of twinkle in his eye, appeared by his side, "What happened?"
The Gryffindor took a deep breath, shuddering as what he had witnessed returned to the forefront of his mind. He pushed down the bile that threatened to rise as he recalled the state of Piggy and Simon's mutilated bodies. He fought to keep his heart from pounding as he remembered the cruelty of the savage boys, and what Ralph had almost been forced to suffer at their hands. Once he had himself reasonably under control, Harry turned to face the Headmaster.
"We were trapped by the Boggart," the Boy Who Lived said, "and we saw Ralph's fear, and then Jack's."
"What did you see?" Dumbledore asked softly.
Harry squeezed his eyes shut, "I'd rather not say, sir. I don't want to think about it."
The Headmaster nodded sadly, aware that whatever had happened was no doubt emotionally scarring and sure to haunt those forced to witness it for a long time. As he looked around the DADA classroom, it occurred to him that whatever horrors the students had beheld were affecting some more visibly than others. Some were in tears and sobbing, while others were just quietly staring out into space, their eyes dark and their faces empty. Dumbledore sighed; he would have to make sure all of them were transported to St. Mungo's to make sure their mental health had not been too damaged by their encounter with the Boggart.
Just then, Professor Lupin made his way over to the corner of the room where Harry and the Headmaster where currently observing the shell-shocked Third Year students. He stopped next to Harry and joined them in looking on despondently while several students were sedated and gently transported out of the room by Madam Pomfrey.
Professor Lupin sighed after a moment and turned to regard Harry and Dumbledore, "I'm sorry about this, sir."
"It's not your fault, Remus," Dumbledore said soothingly. "Do you know what happened?"
Professor Lupin turned his conflicted gaze to where Ralph and Jack were huddled together at the front of the classroom, watching the goings-on with eyes that seemed too old for their young teenage bodies. For the moment, their argument appeared to be over.
"As far as I can tell," Lupin began, "everything went wrong when Ralph stepped up to take his turn with the Boggart. One moment the class was laughing and joking about their fears, and the next a mist had enveloped them all and I couldn't get through to them. It was as though the mist was a wall that separated me from whatever was going on, and nothing I did was enough to penetrate it. Spells bounced off it and eventually I realized I would just have to wait and be patient for the Boggart to either release its hold on Ralph or be defeated."
"Why do you suppose this mist appeared at all?" Dumbledore asked curiously; he had never heard of a Boggart doing such a thing.
Professor Lupin pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes, "All I can figure is Ralph's fear must have been so strong that it granted the Boggart an unusual amount of power. In an attempt to keep hold of Ralph and therefore its newfound power, the Boggart tried to seal those closest to it away into whatever nightmare it had conjured. The only way to escape would have been if the Boggart was somehow defeated."
"Jack beat it," Harry interjected suddenly, "We were somehow frozen in place and couldn't move, and things just kept getting worse and worse . . ." Harry shuddered, "Just when I thought Ralph couldn't be saved, Jack somehow broke the hold the Boggart had over us, and jumped in front of him. Then it transformed into Jack's fear, and the next thing we knew we were back here."
Dumbledore and Lupin watched Harry quietly, lamenting the pain and darkness that stole across his face as the memories of the Boggart's torture of Ralph replayed themselves in his mind's eye. The trio descended into a contemplative silence, struggling to deal with the demons the entire Boggart incident had invoked in each of them.
"I'm sorry," a soft, mournful voice startled the group out of their musings, and they turned sharply to see that Ralph and Jack had joined them. The two boys were standing a little apart from their loose circle, and Ralph was watching them with dark, soulful eyes.
Dumbledore heaved a heavy sigh and shook his head kindly at the youth, "This was not your fault, Mr. Evanson. You have nothing to be sorry for."
Ralph looked unconvinced, and seemed to sink even further into himself. Harry suddenly recalled that – if he was right – Ralph suffered from Survivor's Guilt. Well, the Boy Who Lived thought, I can understand that, at least a little.
Something Harry couldn't quite put his finger on led him to open his mouth, "Ralph, it's alright."
The blond boy – so different from Draco – glanced at him in surprise.
"We don't blame you for what your Boggart is," Harry said, looking the other boy straight in his too-old eyes. As he spoke, Harry watched some of the pent-up grief trapped within Ralph crumble and disappear. A flicker of life, of hope, sparked in Ralph's blue, haunted eyes, and Harry immediately knew he had done the right thing.
"Ralph," Jack's adolescent, though deepening voice broke the moment, and both Harry and Ralph turned to regard him. Jack waited until he was certain Ralph was paying attention before he continued, "don't dwell in the past. After the island, I thought about it every second of every day, and I nearly drove myself bloody insane."
Jack's eyes fell to the floor for a moment, and Harry watched as Ralph hung onto the redhead's every word with frightening intensity. I might understand a little of what Ralph is going through, Harry realized, but the only one who can truly know is someone who was there. Someone who was on that island and witnessed its horrors first-hand. Someone like Jack.
"It was maddening," Jack said quietly, watching something far away that only he could see, "I saw the Beast every night when I fell asleep. Every shadow was hiding something that was going to leap out and attack me. The sun was the fire that ruined everything, and anything that was blue was you, Ralph. The look in your eyes from the last time I saw you haunted me. I thought for sure I was going to go absolutely mental, therapist or not. Every day was torture; I knew eventually someone would talk, and I was afraid I would be called forward to pay for my crimes. However, months passed, and I realized that no one was talking, that I was safe – at least for now."
The entirety of the remaining students and adults in the classroom were listening with rapt attention to Jack by now, as his story was revealed. They looked on as he walked the path of his traumatic past once again, watched him shake his head wryly at how close he had come to losing his grip on sanity.
"Eventually I learned to shut everything related to the island away. I was determined to not think about it again and try to move on. But," Jack hesitated, smirking bitterly, "it was too hard. I knew deep down that I missed the island, I missed being free from society."
A peculiar mixture of longing and bitterness stole its way across the redhead's face, but he continued without pause, "The development of my magic was a welcome distraction, and after all that therapy I thought I would be okay. I thought Hogwarts would entertain me and nothing more, but then I saw you on the train, and I knew I'd never be able to let everything go if you couldn't forgive me for all I've done."
Ralph looked startled, but Jack wasn't finished yet. He strode forward and grabbed Ralph by the shoulders, making him tense anxiously. Jack's eyes were suddenly burning with startling intensity, "I know you have nightmares every night, Ralph, and I know I'm in them."
The blond Gryffindor went stiff as a board, expression flickering between terror and confusion. Harry was worried he was going to go into hysterics again, but Ralph seemed to gather himself and lifted his chin, waiting for Jack to finish.
"I'm sorry, Ralph. I'm so sorry for the pain I've caused you. I've been trying to make amends, but I can only do so much. Can you ever forgive me for everything I've done to you?" The words were low and solemn, with a pleading undertone that made the onlookers' lips twist with pity.
Ralph didn't say anything for a while, and Jack eventually let his hands fall back to his sides. The passion in his blue eyes faded back to that scary blankness, and he nodded slowly, accepting the fact that Ralph would never forgive him, that the blond hated him so much he couldn't bear to speak to him.
Avoiding eye contact with anyone, Jack slowly started toward the door, back ramrod straight, determined to preserve what little dignity he had left. He was almost to the door when Ralph called out to him.
Jack froze but didn't turn around, awaiting the inevitable, whatever that might be.
"Jack, look at me," Ralph implored. The redhead slowly turned around and met his eyes reluctantly. Ralph took a deep breath.
"It's true that what you did on the island was terrible," Ralph said bluntly, "You tried to destroy anyone that stood in your way. You even succeeded a few times," Jack winced, but Ralph plowed on, "However, you were high on power and freedom."
The blond ran his fingers through his wild hair in frustration, "You have to understand . . . I can't just let everything go overnight, Jack," the redhead bowed his head in acceptance, "But, I can try."
Jack's head snapped up in surprise.
"As I said, Jack, you were high on power and freedom, and I can understand that, to a degree. I admit I felt the same, that one night, with Simon . . . ." Ralph trailed off, shuddering, and Jack glanced away, his expression dark. Simon was the boy that looked like he had been stabbed to death, Harry recalled. Jack and Ralph know something, but what? Harry had the sinking feeling that he would never know, and that if he was given the option to know, he would turn it down. The Boy Who Lived didn't think he could deal with any more revelations right now. He could barely muster the energy to comprehend the drama that was unfolding before him; much less decipher everything that was being left unsaid.
"Anyway, I know what it was like, so I get it. You know how it feels better than anyone, Jack, and yet you've tried to accept it and move on. That's more than I've ever had the strength to do," Ralph closed his eyes, ashamed, "I tried to forget everything. I was too scared to accept it, too ashamed to face up to what I'd done. When I saw you on the Hogwarts Express, I was so terrified."
Ralph was shaking now, his face pale and drawn. Harry saw Jack step forward with a small frown, but he stopped before he reached Ralph, waiting just out of arms-reach and watching him like a hawk.
"All I could think about was that somehow, impossibly, you had managed to find me. Here at a school of magic of all places, I had thought I would be safe from any reminders of the island. To have you suddenly appear . . . I admit I almost fell apart again. All I could think was that you had found me, that the hunt was on again, and this time I knew you wouldn't fail to see it through," Ralph shuddered again, but then he seemed to draw strength from a place deep inside himself, because his spine straightened and he finally looked at Jack with clear, blue eyes.
"I was a fool, Jack. I allowed time to freeze. I was so afraid of acknowledging everything that had happened, everything that I had done. I was such a coward that I couldn't allow myself to mentally leave the island, to finally pick up the pieces and move on.
"It's been a year, Jack. A whole year that I've wasted dwelling in the past and being a coward. Seeing you again was just the catalyst for my fear. And for that, Jack, I have to thank you," the whole room jerked in surprise at Ralph's sudden declaration.
Ralph, his eyes shining with something weary but strong, answered their silent queries with his next words, "If it wasn't for you, Jack, I would still be on the island, at least in my head. Regardless of what you and I have done to each other in the past, I am at least able to acknowledge that I owe you for finally giving me the kick in the arse I needed to get out of that hellhole. So whatever else happens, thank you, Jack Merridew."
The boys were silent for a moment, staring at each other. Then, slowly, as though on some unspoken signal, both of them smiled – truly smiled – for the first time in months.
"Careful, Ralph," Jack Merridew stepped closer and held out his hand to the blond, "Any more pretty words and my ego might explode."
Scoffing playfully, Ralph extended his own hand to the redhead, "Sucks to your ego: I'm not worried. I can always knock you down a few pegs."
"Truce?" Jack asked, his voice suddenly hesitant, but his proffered hand remained steady.
"Truce," Ralph agreed softly.
With the entire room full of witches and wizards as their witnesses, the advocates for anarchy and order shook hands firmly, finally at peace with each other.
Then Jack said, "Oh, to hell with it," and pulled Ralph forward into a tight hug, which the blond easily reciprocated, his bright laugh shattering the last hints of tension and fear in the room. Ralph's laugh was infectious, and within moments the rest of the room had joined in. Smiles lit everyone's face, even Draco Malfoy's, and in no time at all the shadow the Boggart had cast over the students' hearts had been banished.
Innocence may have been lost today, Harry Potter realized, but we'll be okay. The real world is full of horrors, and one day Voldemort will be back, but looking at Jack and Ralph, I know we'll be able to survive. No matter what happens, we'll always be there to support each other.
At that moment, two pairs of hands grabbed him, and Harry suddenly found himself in a group hug courtesy of Ron and Hermione. Both of them were grinning like loons, and after a moment Ron snorted, which caused the entire Golden Trio to explode into laughter.
Something light and powerful bloomed in Harry's chest.
Bring it on, Sirius Black, he thought with new-found determination, whatever you want with me, I can take it. After all, Harry's mind flashed with images of bumbling Neville, brilliant Hermione, quiet Ralph, serious Jack, his best friend Ron, I have friends who will back me up and help me defeat you.
Gosh darn it, that ending took me a YEAR to get even halfway decent, but I think I finally managed to wrangle it into something okay-ish. I have to say this was a lot of fun to write, and I sincerely hope you all enjoyed it. Thanks again to my faithful reviewers: I really, truly appreciate all of your comments and ideas. Perhaps this little tale has even inspired some of you - let's give this crossover fandom some more love, huh? What do you say?
Anyway, this story is dedicated to S.G. Thank you for teaching me about the Carpathian Basin and 3-D motorcycle magazines! And happy belated birthday!
Please leave a comment on your way out, and have a lovely November!
~Home By Another Way