Thank you to all my wonderful reviewers! You make me so happy!!!

I wanted to mention each and every one of you, but ffnet is experiencing heavy traffic and it won't let me check the review pages, so I'm terribly sorry and promise to mention you all in the next chapter (after you review this one as well)! :)

A huge bunch of thanks goes to the wonderful and talented Mara-Jade-Potter. She's been helping me sort through some ideas for this story and thanks to her, I've returned to my original plotline, which I hope you are enjoying.

Go read her story, Diaspora Xenitia! It's really good!

AN: Lots of angst and a bit of fluff in this chapter for your reading pleasure!

Warnings: HP/SS slash

Chapter 9:

Harry's therapy sessions with Dr. Armstrong were beginning to take their toll on the young wizard. The psychiatrist's methods, though extremely efficient, were also quite taxing on Harry's mind and body. Over the past few weeks they'd begun hypnotherapy, in an attempt to re-examine Harry's emotions and issues during his first year at Hogwarts. This was a crucial turning point in the young man's life when all the responsibilities and expectations the Wizarding community had thrust upon him were revealed.

It was not an easy transition for a timid, abused orphan to discover not only that he was a wizard, but that he was, in fact, the revered hero of the magical world he never knew existed. He was not offered a period of grace in which to adjust to his new title or situation in life, and though he loved his new life at Hogwarts, which had rescued him from his horrible home-life, it was quite a drastic change from anything he'd known until then.

Dr. Armstrong had recommended getting to the bottom of Harry's issues through the use of Regression Therapy: contemporary uses of regression therapy focus on having the patient go back to the cause of an event which is negatively impacting their life in the present. By having the patient re-experience the trauma emotional release may be achieved. Harry's therapist thought this therapeutic device could be useful for dealing with his acceptance of his destiny as savior of the Wizarding world, as well as with the cause of his nightmares – his annual collisions with Voldemort.

The sessions were draining Harry's strength and he was finding it hard to focus on other things, even after Dr. Armstrong would leave. Little by little, the young wizard began distancing himself from others and retreating into his own private world while obsessing on his painful memories.

At first he managed to cover up his relapse into solitude by offering Severus random excuses for calling off their daily strolls.

Convincing Ron and Hermione not to visit proved difficult, but the resourceful wizard came up with plausible reasons, often incorporating his Dr.'s so-called orders into the mix, for good measure.

After accepting Harry's waffling for several weeks, Severus decided something must be wrong. The friendship he and Harry built had given them both something to look forward to during their lonely days, and he couldn't imagine Harry simply growing tired of him so abruptly.

So one sunny day Severus Snape marched over to Dalton Cottage in order to check up on Harry. He was intent on finding out the reason behind Harry's withdrawal.

He knocked on the door and waited to be let in.

Nothing. Zilch.

He knocked again, wondering what could be keeping his friend.

Still no reply.

After spending a few moments contemplating his options: to return to his home and firecall Harry later that day, or to barge in and make sure the young man hadn't managed to get himself in a bind of some sort, Severus naturally picked the latter recourse.

A rather complex unlocking charm was needed to break through Harry's door, but he managed to do so, easily. He rushed in, trying to ignore the negative vibes he was getting from the whole strange situation.

At first it appeared as if the place had been burgled. Clothes were scattered around the living room, the sink was overflowing with dirty dishes, and Harry seemed to be MIA.

Severus pinched his nose haughtily muttering random cuss words under his breath, not quite understanding how a wizard could live in such a pigsty. After all, it wouldn't take much more than a few cleaning spells to have the place spic and span with a quick flick of the wand.

Severus cast the needed spells, if only to rid the place of the foul stench it had acquired over the weeks, and made his way to Harry's bedroom. He rapped on the door tentatively, not wishing to invade the young man's privacy further than needed.

Once again, he found himself facing a shut door and receiving no response to his knocking. Severus opened the door slowly and was immediately struck by the sight before him.

The large French windows were bolted shut and the shades were drawn. The room was pitch dark and on the large king sized bed was a small figure curled up in a foetal position, humming softly to himself.

Severus stared at the troubled wizard for a moment before whispering softly:

"Harry?"

The figure on the bed didn't move, nor did it cease its humming.

Severus approached the bed and scooted beside Harry gently, not wishing to scare the boy.

"Harry? Can you hear me?" he tried again, placing a comforting hand on Harry's shaky arm.

The young man froze momentarily and quieted down, as if he felt cornered by someone he feared. But then his eyes became focused again and he tilted his head back to see the person sitting beside him. A flash of recognition passed through his features for a slight second, and was quickly replaced by a look of shame and embarrassment.

Harry remained curled up on his bed as he tore his gaze off of Severus and whispered quietly: "Would you please leave? I don't want you to see me this way".

Severus' heart broke when he heard this. It was evident that the young man thought he would judge or ridicule him for his behavior. Seeing his friend so agitated and hurt was difficult for Severus and he wanted nothing but to help Harry overcome his fear and pain. He wanted to be there by his side when he finally became the man Severus knew he was going to be.

In fact, over the weeks Harry had severed ties with him, the potions master had realized his feelings for Harry ran much deeper than he had been willing to admit. The boy made him smile. He made him feel alive again. During the evenings they spent together Severus had felt more comfortable and relaxed than he could ever remember. As if he had a true companion to pass his days with. It was an unfamiliar feeling for a man who'd lived in solitude his entire life, be it by chance or by choice. Harry managed to worm his way into Severus' heavily guarded heart, and there was no way in hell he was about to give up on him!

"I am staying right here, Harry. I refuse to desert you in your time of need."

This was the exact thing Harry had been yearning to hear his entire life. He could think of no one who'd ever stood by him when he needed them most: his parents died when he was a mere toddler, leaving him to fend for himself with his hateful relatives, Ron and Hermione had lives of their own to lead and couldn't be expected to baby sit him whenever he suffered a breakdown. Sirius had been a fugitive on the run in the short time he and Harry had together, and Albus had manipulated his golden boy one too many times for Harry to ever feel he could completely rely on the old man.

But here was Severus; a wonderfully brave, loyal, honest, no sugarcoating, sarcastically witty, strong man, who was vowing to remain at his side during this ordeal.

Harry looked up at his friend with hopeful, questioning eyes, as if trying to size him up and decide whether he could afford to trust his generous, oh-so-appealing offer.

Severus met Harry's gaze with reassurance and what he hoped the young man would interpret as warmth.

Before either one could fully register what was happening, Harry snuggled closer to Severus and wrapped his arms around the older man, placing his head against Severus' broad chest.

The two men remained in this position for a good 15 minutes, before Severus relaxed his hold on Harry and said:

"I will fix us some tea. Get dressed, open the window, and join me in the living room."

Moments later Severus carried a pot of steaming tea to the living room and offered Harry a cup. They were seated side by side on the sofa, both sipping their drinks, and avoiding one another's gaze.

Then Severus cleared his throat and asked:

"Since when has this been going on?"

Harry bit his lower lip nervously and replied:

"The slump began about a month ago, when Dr. Armstrong began the hypnotherapy. See, she's trying to make me relive crucial events in my past, which caused the conflicts and issues we are now trying to resolve."

Severus nodded.

"Yes, that's about the time you started fabricating nonsensical excuses for not spending your evenings with me."

Harry blushed and dropped his gaze to the floor, but Severus continued:

"Doesn't that muggle Dr. realize the affect it's been having on you?"

The young man never lifted his eyes as he said:

"Well, hmmm, actually, she was kind of called away on an emergency a little over a week ago. I promised her I'd take the antidepressants she prescribed."

Severus folded his arms in front of his chest and gave Harry a piercing look,

"And…?"

"And I haven't been taking them." Harry admitted, still staring intently at a spec of dust on the living room floor.

"They made me drowsy and groggy. Besides, you always said muggle medication should only be digested if there were no other means available, since it is highly addictive."

Severus snickered at hearing Harry's attempt at reason.

"You aren't, by any chance, trying to dodge responsibility for your imbecilic behavior, are you, Mr. Evans?"

Harry offered Severus a lopsided grin (the first he'd managed in days) and shrugged exaggeratedly.

Severus' next action shocked both men, as he took Harry's hand, held it tightly in his own, and said:

"Listen Harry, you came here to heal and that is precisely what I expect you to be doing. It was a big step for you to have begun the therapy process and you yourself explained to me, on numerous occasions, that there may be setbacks in your progress. However, you must not give up on yourself, and I assure you I will not either."

Harry's emerald eyes sparkled with relief and happiness as he gazed into his former professor's suddenly expressive ebony eyes. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Severus cared for him. He truly cared about Harry's well being!

He nodded gratefully at Severus and nudged closer so he could lean into his touch.

"I will wait for you to heal properly, Harry."

The last sentence was uttered as if in a daze. Severus must have spaced out for a minute, and Harry wasn't certain he'd meant to say that out loud.

But since he did, it made Harry wonder what that enigmatic sentence implied.

What was Severus waiting for? Why does he want me to heal so badly? Could he be offering to wait until I'm ready to deepen our relationship? After all, he'd gotten awfully touchy-feely in his old age, if today was anything to go by…

Just as Severus' eyes focused back on him, Harry mumbled softly:

"I'll try to hurry up for you, Sev."

TBC

This story is really difficult to write since it's so intense and I don't want to mess up with the psychotherapy process.

That's why your reviews are even more important than ever!!!

Thanks