Where am I?
I Apparated without fully concentrating on my destination, how stupid is that?
On the scale of stupid things I've done in the past few minutes, it's actually second, and it's second by a very long way.
That bloody locket will drive me crazy.
Not any more, it won't.
Perhaps it's too late; perhaps it already has.
Merlin, what have I done?
I can go back.
Can I go back?
After what I've just said, what I've just done, can I really go back?
I thought that Harry had a plan! So did Hermione. Why didn't she back me up? Why didn't she come with me?
She had to choose; it was me or him, and she chose him. Why? Does she fancy him?
She can't, can she? Perhaps that's just the locket talking.
It must be true, what other reason could there be?
"Oh, come on, Harry, it's not Quidditch that's popular, it's you! You've never been more interesting, and frankly, you've never been more fanciable.*¹" They were her words. That's what she said.
She told him. She bloody told him. And I didn't even realise it. That's why he chucked Ginny.
He chucked my sister!
Harry's a git. He broke my sister's heart.
So why did Ginny let him into her bedroom on his birthday, let him snog her? And why was she so bloody annoyed with me when I stopped them?
Yeah, clever clogs, why was Ginny so pissed off with me? It doesn't make sense.
Harry could get any girl he wanted, so why does he want my girl?
Mine? Don't be stupid, she's never been mine.
They're probably snogging right now! He'll be comforting her, kissing her. On the lips, on her frowning, scolding, smiling, pursed, angry, laughing, lovely, kissable lips. Lips unkissed by me.
Oh, Merlin, I've given him a chance to make his move!
That's the locket talking. He's my friend, he knows how I feel. He wouldn't.
She doesn't really fancy him, does she? She ran after me. She called my name. She begged me to stay!
And I left anyway.
She will never forgive me.
Don't blame the locket for everything, Ron. You took it off, and you still left.
I ran away. Me, Ron "useless" Weasley.
What am I going to do?
I'm supposed to be a Gryffindor, brave and loyal. Loyal people don't run out on their friends. They definitely don't desert the girl they love, even if that love is unrequited.
Is that what I feel?
Okay, I know that I fancy her. I've fancied her for ages, but … love? Is that why she annoys me? If this is love, it's bloody painful. Is it supposed to be painful?
"Just because you've got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have,*²" she told me. Well, a teaspoon isn't big enough to hold whatever it is I'm feeling now, Hermione. Whatever it is that I'm feeling right now, I think it's going to make me explode or something. I don't know whether to laugh, or cry, or bang my head against a tree. I do know one thing for certain, I don't want anyone else to kiss her.
I'm jealous! Bollocks! I am jealous. I am a stupid jealous idiot. I am a stupid jealous idiot and I'm so stupid that I've abandoned them.
I am a complete and utter fool.
And she's a genius.
There's another problem, right there!
But I have to go back! People have died, people are dying, and we're the only people who know how to end it. What if something happens to Hermione, or to Harry? What happens if something happens and I'm not there to help, to save her?
I'll go back, and I'll save her. "My hero," she'll say, and she'll run into my arms.
But she won't. That will never happen.
'You took your time, Ron,' that's what she'll say, sarcastically. And I'll be happy, simply because she's noticed me. I am pathetic.
Besides, me, save her? When have I ever saved her? She's the one who saves me, saves us.
She still panics sometimes, like she did with the troll.
Yeah she does, and I keep her calm, do I?
What could she ever see in me, especially after what I've just done?
Nothing at all.
So, that's it, you're giving up, are you? Coward!
I'm not a coward, am I?
I'm not a coward. That is the locket talking!
What if they get caught, tortured, killed? Hermione is Muggle-born, I dare not think what they might do if they catch her. I have to go back, no matter what they say. I have to make sure that she survives. I have to keep her safe.
Even if I'm keeping her safe for Harry.
'Hello, young man. It'th rather late to be wandering the woodth alone, are you hiding from thomeone?' The voice is silky smooth, and very polite, but he can't pronounce his esses. I spin around, reach for my wand, and try to find the source of the words.
What if they get caught, tortured, or killed? I am a stupid bloody idiot, what if I get caught, tortured, or killed? Think, Ron, think. Is it only one man?
'Don't move, sonny-boy.' The second voice is well spoken and precise.
'Yeah, don' move.' The third voice is rougher and common.
'Told yers I 'eard summat. 'Eard summun Appratin' di'n I?' The fourth voice is barely legible. It's a series of grunts and I'm still deciphering it when the final voice speaks.
'He said don't move, sonny boy.' It's a threatening whisper, and although it parrots the words of the second man, the accent is foreign. I'm reminded of Krum.
Krum has kissed her, the git. I do not have any time to think about that, because five shapes are shimmering insubstantially in the mist. I stand completely still and try to figure out what I'm going to say, what I'm going to do.
Fear finally forces me to stop feeling sorry for myself. I look around. The ground beneath my feet is sloping and uneven. It is mostly moss covered boulders, slick, slippery, uneven and hard. I remember that I almost fell over when I arrived, so trying to run for it isn't really an option. The trees surrounding me are gnarled and stunted oaks, many of them are not much taller than I am. Their branches are reaching arms and stretching fingers, and their roots are wrapped around boulders. There is a strange feeling about this place. There is a smell, too; it is the smell of a very old forest, and it's vaguely familiar to me.
That's when I realise where I am. I'm in Wistman's Wood. I'm less than thirty miles from home, from The Burrow. I'm in a haunted and pixie infested wood. Haunted! And it's the home of the Yeth Hounds, the Wild Hunt, too. For a moment I wonder if I really heard voices, or if I'm simply being annoyed by ghosts. Perhaps there's nothing, perhaps I simply heard the wind and saw the shadows of these weird trees, but no, the shapes in the mist finally coalesce into solid figures. They all have wands in their hands.
They move to encircle me. Five shapes become five men.
'Hello, young man,' one of them says politely. His white hair is centre parted and his teeth oversized. He's trying to look harmless, but his eyes are dark-bagged and cold-looking. I recognise the voice. This is "can't pronounce his esses".
His attempt at affability doesn't matter anyway, because his friends are making no attempt to conceal their contempt for me. They are surrounding me; I have nowhere to run and no time to Apparate.
I look from one face to another; fortunately, I don't recognise any of them. There's another older guy, he's nearly bald but has a thick and bushy moustache; there's a dark-haired and sallow faced man, he simply looks vicious; there's a younger guy too, he's skinny and his black hair slicked back, I wonder if he might be the weakest of the five, but he's sharp-eyed and shifty-looking; and finally there's the monster, he's shaven-headed, taller than me, and wider than anyone I know except Hagrid.
'Hello,' I say.
'It'th very late to be out alone, are you hiding?' the white-haired man asks. 'Why aren't you at thchool?'
'Who are you?' I ask, trying to play for time.
'We're Thnatcherth,' he says.
I look at them, no one looks likely to laugh, so I decide that repeating the word exactly as he said it would not be a good idea.
'Snatchers?' I ask.
'Yeth,' he tells me.
'This is Wistman's Wood, at least you're not Yeth Hounds,' I say. Damn.
Slicked black hair chuckles, but he's the only one who does. The white-haired man looks ready to hex me, and sallow-face has never looked any other way. He raises his wand.
'Crucio,' sallow-face snarls.
The pain is impossibly excruciating. It is needles in my flesh, acid in my blood, hair on fire and bollocks in a vice, at least, it starts like that,. Then it gets a lot worse. I scream and fall to the rocky ground. The fact that I crack my head open on a rock goes unnoticed by me until the pain from the Cruciatus Curse slowly subsides. Even then my throbbing head and bloody face is a mere inconvenience. I consider begging, it strikes me that it's a very good idea.
'Please, don't hurt me,' I sob. I lie where I've fallen and try to look pathetic. I tell myself that it's an act, and that I'm simply trying to make them think that I'm already broken. It isn't much of an act, though, because I am pathetic and in pain and I definitely do not want to suffer that torture again.
'I'm sorry,' I snivel. 'I wasn't trying to be funny. Who are you? What are Snatchers?' I ask. They exchange a knowing look. It's apparent that I should know the answer and the fact that I don't implies that I'm guilty of something. 'I've been out of the country,' I add, grovelling.
'Where?' the white-haired man asks nastily.
'Here and there,' I say vaguely, and I instantly know that isn't good enough.
'Here and zere,' sallow face gives me an evil smile. 'Vere, exactly, is zat?' The more he speaks, the more he sounds like Krum.
'I went on holiday with my girlfriend,' I say. The lies are starting to build, and I hope I'll be able to remember what I've told them. 'A place called Les Gets,' I add, as the silly name of a ski resort Hermione once mentioned pops into my head. I hope that sallow face doesn't know the place. He certainly sounds Durmstrang, not Beauxbatons.
'France,' sallow face says contemptuously.
I nod. 'So, what are Snatchers?' I ask.
'We're looking for runawayth, kidth who thould be at Hogwarts, Mudbloodth and other thcum,' the white-haired man tells me. He is trying to regain control. He thinks he's the boss, I realise, but I think that both sallow-face and slicked black hair have their own ideas about that. 'Danny,' the white-haired man says, looking at the troll and noddding. Suddenly I'm caught. Two massive arms grab me from behind and lift me back to my feet. I'm being crushed by a monster called Danny, and if he isn't part-troll, then he desperately needs to change his socks.
Slicked black hair steps forwards, he's about to grab my wand, but sallow face is quicker and he snatches it first. The two exchange a glance of pure hatred. Interesting.
'I'll take that, Lom,' says moustache man, holding out a hand.
'Yeah, give it to Parker,' says slicked black hair, siding with the older man. The three stare at each other, none of them moving.
The white-haired man glares at them, then at me, and pulls a roll of parchment from his robes.
'Name,' he demands.
'Stan Shunpike,' I say. He stares in hatred at me, refusing to repeat the name, and slicked black hair chuckles again.
'Good one,' slicked black hair mutters.
'No, honest, I'm Stan Shunpike,' I say.
'Knight Bus, Stan Shunpike, yeah,' Danny the half-troll grumbles, and his grip slackens slightly. I'm no longer worried that he'll break my ribs, although it would be nice to be able to breathe, too.
'See, Danny recognises me,' I say. 'I thought I recognised you, Danny. Use the bus a lot, don't you?' It's not much of a chance, but it's all I've got.
'Yeah, Stan,' he says, and his grip on me loosens a little more. I gulp down a much needed breath of air. Suddenly everything happens at once.
Everyone is staring at me. Everyone, that is, except slicked black hair, who takes the opportunity to snatch my wand from the sallow faced man called Lom.
'Give that back, now, Peter,' orders Lom, and the two square up to each other.
'Stan Shunpike is tall and has pimples,' Parker, the moustachioed man says, trying to keep his companions focused on me.
'Why does everyone say I have pimples,' I demand, sounding hurt. 'They're freckles, not pimples, aren't they, Danny.'
'You're not Stan Shunpike,' says Parker firmly.
'I recognised Danny, didn't I. Danny?' I ask.
Meanwhile, Lom makes a grab for my wand. Peter with the slicked black hair takes a step back, and trips over a boulder. He swears loudly and falls heavily to the ground with Lom looming over him
Thtop, Thtop!' the white-haired man attempts to regain control are completely ineffectual.
'You didn't…' begins Parker. His protests are halted, because Peter has fallen into him, knocking him sideways. Lom leaps onto the supine Peter and tries to snatch my wand.
'Old Parker is calling us liars, Danny,' I say. Danny releases me, steps alongside me, and floors Parker with a solid left hook. It's only the slightest of chances, but I take it.
I grab Danny's wand from his hand. 'Expelliarmus,' I shout. My wand flies from Peter's hand and I Disapparate the second I catch it.
Now, I must find my friends. I have a lot to tell Harry and Hermione.
We're being hunted. I look around. I had aimed for our campsite, but I'm in the wrong place. This is my fault. I should pay more attention when we're setting up camp. I should pay more attention to the places Hermione takes us. I should pay more attention to Hermione. I should pay more attention.
My head aches. When I reach up to feel the bump I notice my bloody fingers. I look down at my hand. I've splinched myself. I've lost a couple of fingernails. Part of me is glad that I'm hurt. I deserve to be hurt. I am such an idiot. What would have happened if I'd been caught? I collapse against a tree and swear.
Where is the campsite? Is it upstream, or downstream? I'll find it. I have to find it. I have to find Hermione, and Harry. I have to warn them. But I have Apparated to the wrong place, and they are trying to keep hidden.
I don't find them.
I can't find them.
What can I do, where can I go? I can't go home. Mum will kill me. Ginny will kill me.
Bill, he will know what to do.
Note: This story contains direct quotes from:
*¹ Half-Blood Prince, chapter 11 (page 206 of my UK edition)
*² Order of the Phoenix, chapter 21 (page 406 of my UK edition).