“You haven’t told me what we’re doing out here.”
Harry watched the cold air puff up in front of his mouth, and nodded. “Yes, I have. Celebrating the longest night of the year.”
Severus was silent behind him, except for the shuffling of his boots in the snow and the sweep of his robes now and then. Harry didn’t turn around to look at him, even though it was tempting. He would probably ask why Severus had doubted him, and that would probably result in another fight. He continued quietly piling kindle in front of them on the altar-shaped stone instead.
“I thought that was a lie,” Severus said finally. “Why would anyone want to celebrate the longest night of the year?”
Harry glanced back at him with a faint smile. “Because after this,” he said, “the sun turns and the light comes back again.”
Severus stared at him. He was still taut even after the months that Harry had spent patiently courting him, sending him reports on the progress of fighting for his reputation, visiting him in his little cottage in Hogsmeade, researching the Dark Mark and ways to remove it. Harry had succeeded at that. His Samhain gift to Severus had been the final vanishing of the Mark.
Not that you can see his left arm right now in all those layers he wears, Harry thought in tolerant amusement as he added another armful of kindling.
“What you are asking from me,” Severus whispered, and said no more.
“It’s trust,” Harry said, nodding. “But I couldn’t ask for something from you that I didn’t extend myself.” He judged that the altar, a smooth black stone, was ready, and turned to extend his hand to Severus. They were standing in the very outskirts of the Forbidden Forest, branches heavy with snow above them. “Come on. Hold my hand while I cast the fire spell.”
“Why does this matter to you?” Severus slowly put his hand out, all the time on the verge of retracting it, as if he expected it to burn with the fire that Harry hadn’t created yet. Harry finally seized it and pulled Severus’s arm out to its full extension. Severus stared at his own swaying sleeve instead of Harry’s face. “Why did Samhain matter to you? You weren’t raised among people who call the holidays by those names.”
“I wanted them to matter, so they did.”
“That’s not an answer.”
Harry smiled without replying and cast the fire spell. It raced away from his wand and ignited the kindling that he’d piled on the altar with an enormous blast of red and gold flame. In the center of it was a soft, shimmering window of gold and white light. Harry relaxed. He hadn’t been sure until now that he’d cast the spell right. It wasn’t supposed to be said aloud, and never on any day of the year but the solstice itself, so he hadn’t been able to practice.
“What is that?”
“The solstice fire,” Harry said, with a sideways glance. “I know you don’t trust me much, Severus, but surely you trust the evidence of your own eyes?”
Severus swallowed and moved a step closer. They could have released hands now, but he kept clutching at Harry without even seeming to realize what he was doing, and Harry was more than happy for him to stay. They stood side-by-side and stared into the flames, and then Severus turned and faced him.
“I thought you were tricking me,” Severus said slowly. “Or lying. That this was a way to lure me out into the Forest and try to force me to show a vulnerable side that you could take advantage of.”
Harry didn’t react, mostly because he clamped himself in a vise so that he couldn’t react. Then he nodded slowly. “I suppose I can see why you would think that,” he said. He wasn’t happy about it, but yes, he did understand. “But all of this is a gift to you as much as in celebration of the season, Severus. Making myself vulnerable to you.”
“Why?” Severus’s eyes were as wide and dark as those of a wounded deer.
“So that you can make the decision about what you want. If I’m the kind of person you want to be with. How can you decide that without seeing the real person I am?” And Harry lifted a hand and touched Severus’s cheek.
Severus closed his eyes. They stood there so long in silence that Harry could feel his hands freezing. He did think Severus might pull away and walk back to the Apparition point. He understood almost nothing about Severus, it sometimes seemed, even after literally years of trying.
“You are remarkable,” Severus finally breathed out. His head was bowed, and he didn’t look up even when Harry gently touched his cheek again. “I can give you no gift of comparable value.”
“That’s all right,” Harry said softly. He’d meant what he said. The vulnerability, letting Severus see what meant a lot to him and even make fun of it if he wanted, was a gift. That meant Harry had no expectation of it being returned. “Someday, when you feel comfortable—”
“But I can give us both one,” Severus said, and he waved his wand.
The solstice fire on the altar roared up so loud and hot that it began to melt some of the snow at the base of the altar. Harry stumbled back in surprise, choking a little. There was sweat pouring down his face suddenly, and he turned back in time to see Severus shedding his robe in the small clearing of melting snow.
“You don’t have to,” Harry said. His heart was dancing a sudden tattoo against his ribs. “I—I don’t want you to feel obligated—”
“When have you known me to feel random obligations towards you?”
Harry had to grin at that. “Never,” he said, and removed his own outer robe. He had expected to start shivering, but it really was comfortable already in the clearing of burning snow, and when Severus waved his wand and conjured a bed from mud and leaves with a skill Harry envied, it was more comfortable still.
Harry walked slowly over to the side of the bed nearest him. It was a huge, sumptuous one with a canopy that simply floated above it, not supported by four posts. The covers were a deep purple satin, the color of a sunset, the color of specially reared flowers that some of the books he had read said were burned by tradition in the solstice fire.
Just as couples sometimes made love in front of the solstice fire, gifting themselves with good luck for the new year.
Harry glanced over his shoulder. Severus had shed all his robes, and stood naked before Harry, more vulnerable than he was for the first time ever. Most of the time, he waited until Harry’s clothes were all gone before he made a single move. And he was stroking his cock, and he was looking at Harry—
Harry caught his breath. It wasn’t just Severus’s body that was naked before him. He nodded and dropped his own robes, then shed his pants. He expected to have to cast a few Warming Charms, but he didn’t need to. Severus truly had used a Winter Enchantment to grow the solstice fire to the ritual size, and they needed nothing but it to stay at the proper temperature now.
Nothing but it and each other.
They’d had sex before. But not like this.
Harry reached out and skimmed his hand down Severus’s shoulder. Severus made a single harsh note of need, eyes fixed on him, and Harry couldn’t tear out of his robes fast enough. Severus had to help him when the buttons got caught, but he didn’t have the half-hidden laughter in his eyes that Harry had expected. They were too soft and heavy for that.
“Let me help you.”
And that’s it, Harry thought in wonder as he lay back on the bed and let Severus finish undressing him, and conjure the lube, and set up the wards that would prevent any wandering Forest creatures from poking their noses in. Those are the words I was waiting for.
He loved Severus, and he’d considered it a privilege to coax him into bed and cast the necessary spells and undress both of them. But it was nice to be considered here, too, and to know that Severus saw this night in the Forest as a gift the way Harry had always intended—
Harry moaned in spite of himself as Severus’s fingers slid into him. The same, yet different. He arched his head back and opened his legs and displayed himself in the way Severus knew he liked.
As always, Severus went still, fingers inside Harry and all, the only sign he usually gave of what Harry’s vulnerability meant to him. But this time, he also made a small noise, and then his fingers crooked up and another one slid inside, and Harry could hear the sound of him conjuring more lube for his free hand.
“You give of yourself so wholeheartedly,” Severus finally whispered when Harry had wriggled his hips and demanded enough, more, so that Severus’s cock was poised against his entrance. “I will never be that way.”
“It means more when you do show me what you’ll give,” Harry said, and met his eyes.
Those must have broken the last barriers of hesitation or inhibition. Severus all but bared his teeth and slid inside Harry with a grunt. He never would have allowed himself to make that noise, either, usually. Harry closed his eyes and reveled, in silence, in his own grunts, in his clenching muscles around Severus, in the way that hands came down on his hips and owned and took—
They made love on the bed for so long that Harry’s legs began to ache where he kept them wrapped around Severus’s hips. But the fire didn’t grow less, and neither did the look in Severus’s eyes. Harry was finally the one who had to ask, who had to reach up and cup Severus’s cheek and whisper, “Please.” He didn’t have enough energy to rear up and kiss him.
Severus’s eyes flared, and he struck deep with his cock at the same moment as he carefully stroked Harry’s, once.
Harry snapped out of his body with the ecstasy, flying for a moment through a rainbow arc of fire as bright as the solstice one. Pleasure swamped him, and he heard Severus with him, calling out muffled sounds. Almost Harry’s name, Harry thought drowsily as he returned to his body. Not yet.
But almost. Closer than ever before.
When he could see again, Severus had already spelled away what Harry had spilled on his own stomach. But not what he’d spilled, and he remained inside Harry, curled up behind him, stroking his shoulder while they stared at the fire.
“Do you want—” Harry shifted. Usually Severus liked to clean up and separate at once after sex, unless both of them were too tired. Even then, he usually let Harry clean.
“Shhh. No. We don’t have to.”
Harry turned his head and kissed him, hungry lips and working teeth. Severus stiffened with surprise, then bent his proud, stubborn neck—the one Harry loved—and kissed him back.
No, we don’t have to go anywhere, Harry thought, lying back against his lover, his partner, his Severus, and watching the fire. Not until we want to give each other that.