This was a moment to savour. I scanned the bruised skies above the dense green of the conifers.
"You won't overdo it?" Hermione asked, worrying her hands on the front of my sweatshirt.
"No, I learned in hospital that I shouldn't just throw myself in. I shall be sensible and moderate," I said, as if reciting a well-memorised warning from the back of one of the Wheezes firework boxes, before smiling and winking at her. "Honest."
She smiled back at me.
"Really, you'll be sensible? How long do you think you'll be?"
"Ummm...about twenty minutes," I guessed, picking a duration of time out of thin air, as I stretched my calf muscles. "I'll head towards the picnic place and see how far I get."
She looked worried again.
"I'll tell you what," I said. "I'll just run in that direction for ten minutes, turn around and come back. It's better than trying to find a route that lasts twenty minutes, eh?"
I pulled my 'winning Hermione over' face hopefully.
"Take care, darling," she said with a resigned shake of the head and a light chuckle.
"I will, don't worry. I don't want anything to go wrong any more than you do. See ya."
I trotted up the track towards the hills. The sense of freedom was immense. I could go wherever I wanted. My trainers pounded against the stony ground. Ahead of me, there was a bridge, a forest, and any number of other places I could now wander off into on my own.
I chose the forest. I liked the way the branches formed a protective shelter above me. Inside, the air was damp and strongly scented. I could hear the distant stream on my left and I ran towards the sound. Soon, I saw a short, wooden bridge crossing the trickling water and headed for it.
Having crossed over and past the river, the noise of the water faded behind me. After another hundred yards or so, I found myself running past our picnic place. It thrilled me to have found another route to somewhere I already knew. It was both new and familiar at the same time, even comforting in a way.
I knew this spot and could see the evidence of my children playing along with the log I would sit with my wife every day. However, I was alone now and just a bloke on a run passing by a clearing.
It was normal.
I ran up a slight hill and felt the muscles in my legs strain as I reached the crest. It hurt but it felt good to be pushing myself, making myself work. With my heart racing faster, spurred on by the thrill of what I was doing, I pushed on to yet another hill. This one was higher, steeper, but I pressed onwards with determination and euphoria.
I measured my breathing against my heartbeat and felt satisfaction in the double-time rhythm reverberating against my chest. The trees flashed by faster and I wondered what would happen if the light blinking through branches became some sort of stroboscope (I learned that word from Hermione and try to drop it into conversations as often as possible to sound clever) and triggered a fit.
What would I do?
Would I collapse and die immediately or would I fall into a damp ditch and die slowly of exposure?
I didn't care now. I felt no fear at the prospect. What would happen, would happen. I was running and it felt good. My confidence rose. I laughed out loud and threw my arms above my head before taking a new path that dropped off downward into the muddy woods. Dipping down through the trees, I splashed through muddy puddles, laughing more and breathing deeply.
Ahead lay a tall fence and a wooden gate. I slowed my pace as I drew nearer and then stopped. There was no sign on the gate, no padlock; in fact, there was nothing there that indicated the gate was there to keep people out. It looked rather more as if it was there to keep animals in.
It was shooting ground and stags roamed wild. I could see nobody beyond the gate and the path was clear. I swung the gate open and closed it carefully before carrying on over the rise and down into more trees until the path narrowed. It was only a foot or so wide, uneven and broken.
As I ran, my thoughts levelled and grew calmer. This was what I needed. This would help more than anything else. Just one tiny thought floated in to disturb my newfound calm.
Did I close the gate?
Well, yes, I remembered carefully latching the dull, light metal clasp...but I didn't trust my memory. Had I really closed it or was I imagining it?
Then another thought crashed into my head. Was this paranoia? The Healers had warned that one of the side-effects to my injury might be paranoia, along with compulsive behaviour patterns. Was I being compulsive? Was this burning desire to run back up a substantially muddy hill to check a gate that I knew for a fact I'd closed only minutes earlier compulsive behaviour?
Was I being paranoid about my compulsion?
That was it. I turned and set off back up the hill. 'Bugger it', I thought. 'If it's going to send me mad worrying about it, I'll check the gate anyway. Whether it's paranoia, compulsive behaviour or a latent desire to sleep with my Magical History teacher'.
I ran back up the hill. The gate was shut and I felt weak, broken and ashamed.
Ron had been gone for far too long on his run. Half an hour had passed and I was worried as it was starting to get dark. I told the children to put their wellies on and that we were going for a walk. They'd just started to argue about who was going to sit on the stool to pull on their brightly-coloured boots first when the front door opened.
A sweaty, muddy Ron stood in the doorway.
"Hello. Did you have a good run?" I said with alarming brightness as I took my coat back off.
"It was okay. Where are you three off to?" he panted.
For a second I considered lying, but only for a second and moved closer so the children couldn't overhear me.
"I was about to come and look for you. You've been quite a while and I was beginning to get worried."
"Oh Merlin, I'm sorry." He was almost cringing before me.
"Don't be silly. I'm just being my usual worry-too-much self. Where did you go in the end?"
Pulling me aside, Ron recounted the episode with the gate, worried that he was completely, chronically paranoid.
"Y'know, I couldn't begin to tell you the number of times I do stuff like that," he admitted. "Re-checking stuff I absolutely know I've already done."
"It's just like the lost wand syndrome. Remember what Brian told you? People in recovery have to remember not to get caught up in that. Every time you've misplaced your wand in the past, you haven't instantly assumed you've got permanent brain damage. You've simply misplaced your wand."
"I just had to check the gate," he said, nodding his head in understanding of what had happened to him on his run. "It's normal."
I cupped his face in my hand and kissed him lightly on the lips.
The evenings in Scotland were often my most feared part of the day. Most nights, Ron would be in a bad mood. He suffered a very real problem with confrontation and negativity, which angered him and would set the tone of the evening.
Most nights were spent playing Exploding Snap or reading: books for me and Quidditch magazines for Ron, while the children were tucked up in bed. We'd while away about an hour before sharing a bath and then climbing into bed ourselves. We were both tired.
Ron would lie in late in the mornings, waiting until he could smell the bacon and eggs before getting up and joining me and the children in the kitchen. We were at the breakfast table one morning when he suddenly stopped eating, sat bolt upright, his face contorted into so many different expressions it really was very strange to watch.
"Oh...OH!" He looked like he'd just stepped off a fairground ride that had made him dizzy.
"You okay? What's up?" I asked.
He didn't look like my Ron; his face was ashen and instantly aged ten years. Had I seen this man on the street I wouldn't have recognised him. It was so frightening. I sat, paralysed, hypnotised by this terrible uncontrollable force waiting for it to stop.
When it ceased, just moments later, he was bewildered and confused. All I could do was hold him. Ron explained that as he'd sat there, quietly eating a piece of toast, out of nowhere, about ten different emotions hit him all at once. He was bombarded by them from deep within himself.
I felt it was his body's way of reminding us that it wasn't over yet and it was going to be difficult, very difficult, but we'd get through it.
It's now eleven months since I sat in a kitchen in Scotland and freaked out as all my emotions hit me at once over a piece of hot, buttered toast.
I can even daydream now. My mind wanders and roams as freely as ever it did. I'm no longer terrified of strangers and I can get through a day without needing a nap.
My emotions remained tricky for a while. I was still at the whim of whatever powerful emotion struck me at any time, often for no good reason. Sometimes though, I could recognise these phantom emotions for what they were.
I wandered across the garden at The Burrow some months ago and saw, from the corner of my eye, the old broom shed. I must have thought to myself how much I loved playing in there when I was little, because seconds later, I was overwhelmed with a great flood of love. It charged up through my chest to dominate everything, just as it does when I think about my children.
I had, briefly, fallen in love with my dad's broom shed!
It was sincere, too, as real as any other feelings of love, but it was yet another phantom emotion. I was lucky, I could recognise it for what it was, understand how it had come about, and untangle myself from it.
That incident was pretty much the last time I had any such struggle. My emotional checks and balances are back now and I'm not likely to fall head over heels for a rickety wooden shed again.
The Healers, medi-witches and wizards and Brian the Brain Man had saved my life, gave me back my mind. I then had to re-learn how to use the fully functioning brain they had given back to me.
I did get back in the air again and, strangely enough, my flying improved. Yes, there were times at first when I battled demons inside, but through every long, tough mile, I was filled with relief, accepted the painful fears and flew on.
I got back to the ACD, too. My team of Aerial Combat Aurors cooked up a few jokes for my return and we made light of the whole accident but at the same time everybody knew they were dealing with something difficult and sensitive.
This isn't a sad or miserable story, not by a million miles. The lessons I've learned have far outweighed the misery. Of course, there are thousands of people out there who aren't so lucky. I would visit the rehabilitation clinic for check ups with Brian the Brain Man and see many other brain injury patients working through their own problems.
You can't see that somebody has damaged their memory, their emotions, and their personality. They may look perfectly well on the outside but be suffering all manner of turmoil on the inside. Both the best and the worst thing was when people would look at me, assume I was fine, and carry on as if nothing had ever happened.
It was great to be able to forget about the accident and move on, but at the same time, I needed people to understand the trouble I might be having doing ordinary stuff.
I asked Hermione, at one point in my recovery, to make me a t-shirt that on one side read, 'I'm okay, please stop asking,' and on the back read , 'I'm still bloody poorly y'know?'
I think by now, I could lose the panel on the back and just have, 'I'm fine, thanks' printed on both sides.
The one thing that's never been a pain, though, is when people come up and ask how I am. Every time a pleasant, middle-aged lady I've never met before walks up to me, puts her hand on my arm, looks into my eyes and asks how I am, it's as though an aunt has given me a big hug and asked the same question.
It's comforting and healing, if only because it's a reminder that it's rather nice to be a human being, after all. It also got me a hell of a lot more attention from the mums at Rosie's nursery school and Hugo's playgroup!
And so, life gets ever closer to returning to what was normal for us. Of course, as our normal includes days when I call out goodbye to Hermione and the children as I set out to fly to the North Pole, cross the English Channel in a floating van, or even head the stunt display team on another demonstration, we can never entirely relax.
I was clear to Apparate again in good time, largely because I never once succumbed to a seizure, and I was also given the nod to get back onto a broomstick again. When that happened, I grabbed my trusty broom, Beardo's old custom-made Quidditch broomstick, and cruised around the countryside near our home.
Hermione even climbed on the back and came with me; that says a lot considering she hates flying. Everybody had been very worried about possible flashbacks and repercussions when I first flew again. In fact, it never really crossed my mind.
What happened to me happened on a Rocket Broom. It was really not much difference to me having ridden a firework that wasn't designed to explode. If I'd kicked off from the ground and only been able to go in a straight line, eyelids flapping about behind my head, I might have had a bit of a moment.
This was just flying and, as always, I loved it.
We laughed a lot during that flight, as did Rosie and Hugo when I took them up a few feet, several days later.
"Daddy, are you going to be flying?" Rosie grinned.
"Yes, yes, I am because the Healers said I can now."
"Cool!" Hugo beamed before he as his sister sat in silent, exaggerated concentration.
"Daddy," they both asked together in their sing-song voices.
"Yes," I said, trying not to laugh and spoil their clearly rehearsed joke.
"Don't go upside down and bang your head again, will you? We'll all have to go to the hospital then and who will look after the animals?"
They laughed, and laughed, and laughed at their joke. It's a routine we always go through every time we pile into the Muggle car I bought and charmed to fly whenever we want to go on a family trip together.
In answer to their question, I always say that no, I won't go and do that again, and if I can help it I shan't.
And sitting beside me as I write that, as she has been beside me now through the highest and lowest points in my life, and the moments when it looked like it very well might end, is Hermione. The impact of any such accident is felt, initially, by the person at the front line, the one turned into a patient by it, but from that point on it becomes a burden to be carried those closest to them.
So I thank my parents, my brothers and sister, and my friends for being there when I needed them and I'm sorry for putting them through a tough time. My children were largely shielded from the hurt of it, but they missed their daddy and one day I'll be able to explain to them why and say sorry to them, too.
And to my Hermione, I can only ever say a simple thank you and dedicate the rest of my life to her.
A/N My beta (the second one) got confused by the term poorly and changed it to poor.
So just to be clear, poorly means ill and poor means poor.
Glad you enjoyed my adaptation of the Hammonds' story. I'm taking a bit of a break from multi chapter fics for a bit but will post some one shots when I have them.