I have to say I love autumn best of all the times of year.
Though summer is the holidays, I can’t say it’s my favourite. The air is warm and sticky and the bright Southern sun leaves me irritable and my pale skin pink. And when the heat gets very bad, I just end up lying in a boneless heap anywhere with the hint of a breeze, too lethargic to move.
At least at my own house, I’m free to lounge unless Mum unexpectedly Floos over to “see how we’re getting on”. I love her and all, but she drives me mental sometimes. We’ve lived here for over six months now and we haven’t blown ourselves up yet.
Well, except for that one time, but that was not my fault and we swore solemnly never to tell her about it. She’d just be impossible about it.
Spring is nice enough too, with all the bees and birds and flowers and things. It smells really good in spring; green somehow. I said that once to Hermione and she said it was all the Cawllyfills or something. I didn’t know what they were, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. I just made some sort of “hmmm” noise like it made sense. I wanted to know though, so I asked Luna when she visited one day and she said they were like tiny badgers with wings that eat potato peelings. Apparently spring is their breeding season.
But I like it best when summer’s over and it starts to get that real chill once the sun goes down. The leaves all turn from green to reds and oranges and yellows and purples. I love crunching my boots right through a big drift of them. There’s something very satisfying about it.
Autumn means scarves and hats and jumpers; thick knitted creations (NOT maroon, even if Harry says it suits me) like warm hugs made of wool. It means the fireplace bright at night and long, relaxed evenings in the sitting room with Harry, the Wireless murmuring gently in the corner. I lie on the rug, toasting myself, and watch the flickering light sketching shadows and highlights on his angular face. He’s normally leaning over a letter or some paperwork he didn’t get finished that day.
I leave him alone while he’s working. Though he’s more comfortable now than he used to be with cuddles and kisses and other random physical contact, he still needs that bit of personal space to focus and ground himself. If I was sitting next to him, draped across him like a blanket, he wouldn’t be able to concentrate at all. His whole body goes tense like it’s trying its hardest to ignore the places where I’m touching him. I can’t say that doesn’t hurt, but I know he doesn’t do it on purpose.
So now the only times I do it are the times when I’m trying to distract him.
“Gotta finish…deadline…” he mumbles against my mouth.
“Mmmhmmm…” I agree, my fingers sliding under his shirt and across his belly. “Don’t let me stop you.”
Normally this is the point where the ink gets spilt, Harry’s all important papers get crushed and those nimble fingers of his undress me very quickly. I love the rug in front of the fireplace. It’s a full sheepskin and very comfortable to lie on, especially in the buff as the wool tickles all kinds of places. It’s just as well our Floo point is in the kitchen. That little fact has definitely saved us from a couple of very embarrassing moments. There are certain things your extended family just doesn’t need to know.
“Oh, please,” she said condescendingly, as I tried to wrap myself in the curtains and Harry endeavoured to conceal his vital parts with a cushion. “It’s not like either of you have anything I haven’t seen before.”
I could feel the heat radiating from my face as I blushed as no man had ever blushed before. Then a sliver of thought crept into my brain with an almost audible click, and I turned on Harry with a sudden surge of rage. “When did Hermione see you naked?” I demanded.
Harry’s mouth opened and shut like a stranded fish, and a noise like “gahhh” escaped from his lips, which I took immediately as an admission of some terrible sin.
“For heaven’s sake, Ronald,” Hermione intervened. “We spent most of the year we were seventeen sharing a tent. Seeing you both nude was hardly the worst of it. The sounds from your bunk most nights…”
My brain shut down completely and I wanted to die. Maybe I had already died. I was too mortified to tell.
Harry sniggered, which was a brave thing for a man wearing nothing but a cushion to do. “What about the sounds from your bunk?” he countered.
It was Hermione’s turn to gape. She paled and left the room as quickly as she had entered it, muttering something about letting us get dressed in private.
We were blessedly alone again, and my enquiring mind needed to know. “When did you hear Hermione…you know?”
“Didn’t,” Harry said, grinning cheekily, as he hitched up his pants and buttoned the fly. “But she must have. We were in that tent for months.”
I licked my lips and tried to quell the sudden resurge of desire. “You’re evil. Merlin, I love you. I’m going to shag you so hard when she leaves.”
His green eyes flashed. “Promise?”
“Oh, yeah. Your arse is mine.”
Fireplaces and rugs aside, autumn is my favourite time for another very special reason. Apples. Devon apples are the best in the world. And apples grown on your own trees are better than anything you could ever buy.
When Harry and I decided to move out of the Burrow and find our own place, we could have moved just about anywhere. Harry had plenty of money from his parents’ and Sirius’s estates and a Junior Auror pulled a decent wage into the bargain. George’s shop was making enough that I way getting a good pay packet myself. We could afford to rent somewhere nice, and I said as much.
“No,” Harry said firmly. “No rentals. I want a home. Somewhere that’s ours. Somewhere we can live as long as we want to.”
Godric’s Hollow was raised and almost immediately dismissed.
“I can’t,” he explained. “They have a bloody statue to my family, for God’s sake. I can’t walk past that every day. I want somewhere that’s mine, where I’m not the local curiosity. I’ve had enough of that.”
We’d been to Godric’s Hollow the previous year with a couple of Harry’s senior colleagues in tow to lower the wards temporarily. Most of the contents of the house were damaged, destroyed or had been removed by the Aurors after his parents had been killed. Harry had wandered the rooms that were still structurally sound as if trying desperately to find something but not knowing what he was searching for. He looked grim, pale, and somehow very young and dreadfully old all at once. It was unbearable.
In the end, Harry took just two things from the ruin of the Potter house; a tarnished locket with a broken chain and the charred but still recognisable handle of a broomstick.
“I’m done,” he had said hollowly. The locket and the broom handle he put into a box which he tucked away at the back of the wardrobe. I never saw him touch it but I suspected he opened it when he was alone, the way he did the photo album Hagrid had given him when he was eleven.
We looked all over Britain; magical towns and Muggle, cities and villages. In the end, we settled on a place only a few miles from the Burrow. It was small but had that certain something about it that Harry had been looking for.
“Good choice,” said Bill appreciatively when he and Fleur came to look it over not long after the sale. “It’s been a wizarding home for a long time, so the magic is stable. And no undesirable pests, not even a ghoul in the attic.”
“Thank bloody hell for that,” I exclaimed emphatically. As grateful as I was to the Burrow’s ghoul for taking my place temporarily years ago, I would be glad to be rid of him.
“Of course, you might need to put up some extra security, all things considered. I’d be happy to help out. Just owl me and let me know when you’re about to move in.”
Though Harry might have fallen in love with the house itself or the remoteness or something, what won me over was the apple trees. The Burrow had always had an orchard and living somewhere where I couldn’t just wander out into the autumn chill and pick a Quarrenden or a Pippin straight from the tree just didn’t seem right.
Autumn days revolved around apples when I was little. I was a nimble climber and I’d be sent to the higher parts of the trees that the others couldn’t reach to pick the best and sweetest fruit for Mum. She was always there; her apron ready to unerringly catch the apples I picked and dropped down, her wand ready to catch me if I fell.
Apples from the Burrow’s trees would be turned into a delicious array of goods. Pies with thick crumbly pastry glittering with sugar, moist cakes spiced with cinnamon and served with thick, heavy yellow cream, sticky-sweet apple dappy, preserves swimming in carefully labelled jars, freshly made cloudy juice, smoothly pureed sauces, and sharp orange scrumpy brewed from the “cider tree” and crab apple windfalls collected by Ginny.
When I saw the cottage’s apple trees, I knew we’d found our home. They were old, but just old enough to be well established and not too ancient to yield a crop.
“Hmmm,” Mum said, scrutinising the trees as intently as she had the dusty floorboards and mantelpiece inside the house. “These haven’t been looked after in a while. Little wonder, with the house being empty so long. You’ll need to prune them. Here, and here, see? Like that, every tree. They should fruit well for you, if you do.” She patted the nearest trunk affectionately. “I’ll have to give you some of my recipes.”
I was stunned. “But…but you never give people your recipes! You’re not…you aren’t…” I trailed off into a worried silence.
She laughed loudly and merrily, recognising my distress and smothering it with a hug. “No! I’m fine. Fit as a fiddle. But you’re out on your own now and you’ll be cooking for yourself at least some of the time. And you should learn to do the apples these trees will give you some justice.”
“Cook? But I can’t…I don’t know…” A sense of panic swelled. All these months thinking about moving out, I’d never for one moment considered that living away from home would mean I’d have to cook for myself.
“You’ll learn,” Mum repeated, smiling warmly. “You’re my son; it’s in your blood. There’s a cook in there somewhere. And if there isn’t, you’ll learn out of bare necessity.” Her face grew suddenly stern. “If I find out you’re letting Harry make all the meals and do all the housework, you’ll hear about it from me. After those awful Muggle relatives of his treating him they way they did, I won’t stand for it. Understand?”
“Good boy.” The smile returned and she gave me another gentle squeeze.
Life at the new cottage settled into a gentle kind of rhythm. Weekdays we went off to our respective jobs. I Flooed to Wheezes, but Harry firmly insisted on Apparating to work. He’d never liked the Floo and he complained that the soot it left on his Auror robes looked unprofessional. Truth be told, I think he would have preferred flying to Apparition any day if it didn’t mean he’d have to leave before sunrise to get there in time.
Harry made me tea every morning as he was the early riser. Most days he’d bring it in while I was still curled up in my duvet, but sometimes I woke early and would watch him from the kitchen doorway as he performed each step methodically, those slender, strong hands precise in every movement. For someone who couldn’t dance, there was something so elegant and graceful about him when he made a cup of tea.
I actually grew into a decent enough cook and ended up making dinner most nights, as Harry’s hours could be long and unpredictable. Mum, Ginny and Harry had (rather frighteningly) combined forces to give me a crash course on the basics not long before we moved in. The result was a bizarre hodgepodge of magical and Muggle techniques, but the meals I made were edible more often than not. The day I cooked Mum’s rosemary potatoes to perfection I was so chuffed I couldn’t stop grinning. Maybe it was in my blood after all.
Mum was right about the trees. Not long after we moved in, George and Dad came around and helped Harry and I prune the half a dozen or so that made our little orchard. It was hard work, but satisfying. The lopped branches were cut into neat cords and stacked to cure for firewood.
“Burns sweet, apple does,” Dad said happily, wiping his flushed face with a dirty hand.
Though there was a lull of domesticity developing, I was anxiously waiting over the months that followed for autumn. The grass under the apple trees grew long and sprinkled with wildflowers. Delicate buds grew on the branches and burst open, hundreds of bees humming over each tree. Then the flowers faded, dropping their petals like confetti. The grass yellowed in the heat, turning to hay under the summer sun. And ever so slowly, the tiny nubs that would be apples swelled and grew.
The long grass in the orchard was heavy with dew that quickly soaked my pyjama bottoms and made me shiver. But it didn’t matter. I was on a quest. And there, there it was. A ripe, red sphere, shining in the mist. I wrapped my fingers around it and it came away in my hand at the slightest tug.
The first bite was wonderfully crisp. My teeth punctured the firm skin releasing the juices in a rush. The apple was sweet and tart and refreshing and everything I’d imagined it could be. It was everything that embodied An Apple. All the pies and cider in the world couldn’t match the purity and completeness of that first apple of the season.
I paced out from the trunk into an open area of grass. There I dug a little hole and buried the core, patting the dirt down carefully. I had an odd impulse to thank the tree, but even on my own at the crack of dawn in the middle of an orchard in my pyjamas saying thank you to a tree was a bit too weird for me. Instead I hunted out a second just as perfect specimen and went back inside.
Harry was still asleep. I slipped off my wet trousers and climbed back under the covers, snuggling up and wrapping my arms around him. He woke up enough to yelp and make a half-hearted attempt to wriggle free. "You're freezing," he complained. "Where did you go?"
"Outside," I said brightly.
He made a very grouchy noise and his face creased up cranky folds. "It's a Saturday. It's dawn. Your feet are cold. I think I hate you. A lot."
"I brought you tea," I said cajolingly, accompanied by my most winning smile. I knew he couldn't stay angry with me for long when I smiled like that.
One dark green eye cracked open. "If that's a lie, I'm going to go out and find the most obscenely handsome boy in London and shag him relentlessly. And I won't even let you watch."
Feigning hurt I pouted, knowing that he couldn't withstand me pouting, but I sat up and picked up the mug from the nightstand anyway. I gently wafted the steaming brew under his nose.
"Fine," he conceded marginally, "you can watch." He struggled up to a half-sitting position and took the mug. Despite his ill temper, a fleeting pleasure stole across his features at that first mouthful. I loved that expression. I couldn't help but lean in carefully and kiss him once he had swallowed.
"I love you," I breathed, tasting tea on my own lips.
"I still hate you," he grumbled, but his heart wasn't in it. I could tell.
"You taste like apples," he said sulkily. He took another mouthful of the tea, nursing the mug defensively, as though it might be taken from him at any moment.
"I brought you a present," I said, brimming with excitement, dropping the pristine fruit into his lap.
"It's an apple."
"Yes!" I exclaimed triumphantly.
"I have eaten apples before. Admittedly, not usually this early in the morning or borne by insane redheads with icy toes."
"Pah," I said dismissively. "This is an Apple. One of our apples."
His temper was dissolving; I could see it. The frown was almost gone. Almost.
Harry sighed heavily. "If I eat this, will you leave me alone?" he asked petulantly.
"Maybe," I teased. "If that's what you want me to do." I was looking at him from under my lashes and smiling in what I hoped was a flirtatious manner. The hand that had dropped the apple in his lap had wandered under the duvet a while ago and was gently stroking his chest through the fabric of his t-shirt. If the slight flush on his cheeks was anything to go by, he wasn't unmoved.
Harry swallowed rather hard. "Fine."
I watched intently as he picked up the apple and opened his mouth for that first, exquisite bite.