The fic starts not long after Harry's eleventh birthday. It is obviously AU, and at present there are no pairings planned, since Harry is only a child. What the pairing might be in the future I don't know yet.
"Harry, please sit down."
He sat; gazing curiously at the grandfatherly man who had introduced himself as the Headmaster of Hogwarts, wondering what this was all about.
It had been a rather strange few days. First the flock of letters arriving at his home in Privet Drive – 'flock' being the operative word considering that they had been brought by owls – and then the arrival of Hagrid, and the news that he was a wizard. He could still barely believe it, despite it making sense of all the strange things that had happened to him in his life.
"Harry… what I'm about to tell you will no doubt not be pleasant to you, since you have been raised in the muggle world with all of their ethical beliefs – beliefs that I happen to share, at least in regard to this situation. However, it is nothing that either one of us can change."
He frowned, completely confused. "What do you mean, Headmaster? What situation?"
Dumbledore sighed, then said quietly, "Harry, while the muggles in the United Kingdom outlawed slavery a long time ago, I am sad to say that the Wizarding World did not do the same. Slavery is rare, and heavily controlled, but it is still legal."
Harry stared at him in shock and horror, as well a lot of confusion. It pained him to realise that this world he had felt was so perfect was in fact flawed, and in such a way.
"Why… why are you telling me this?"
"Because, Harry, you legally own a slave."
The boy stared at him in disbelief, and he softly explained. "When your mother was at school, one of her classmates was a slave. He belonged to an elderly man who had done his best to treat Severus like an equal - but shortly after he left Hogwarts, his guardian died, and he was passed to a relative who abused him. Your mother found out.
"Lily was horrified. She convinced your father to buy Severus in order to save him. You must understand, Harry, Severus is bound legally and magically into slavery. There was no way that your mother could have freed him."
Harry realised his mouth was open, and closed it quickly. He took in what had been said, and asked weakly, "So when my parents died, I… inherited him? Like a possession, a house or something?" With a spurt of horrified anger, he added loudly, "That's horrendous!"
"Yes, it is," Dumbledore agreed. "However, it is the truth. While you lived in the muggle world, I took custody of Severus, and gave him a job as a teacher here at Hogwarts. However, now that you are part of the Wizarding World, ownership of him automatically reverts to you."
"I…" Harry's words failed him.
The Headmaster gave him a sad smile, and then said quietly, "I'm afraid you have no choice in this, Harry. There is no way to free him; you can either keep or sell him; and if you sold him, there is no guarantee that he wouldn't go to somebody who would abuse him."
Harry winced, and then lifted his head as an idea occurred to him. "So can't I just give him to you?"
"Give? No. You are underage, nobody would allow you to just give away something worth so much money. You could legally sell him to me, but I am afraid, Harry, that I could not afford to buy him."
"Oh." Harry's throat was dry, as he took this in. "Then – don't you know someone else who can? Can't you ask someone?"
"I know very of few people with enough money to buy him, Harry, and those I do I would not ask, for various reasons. Slaves are very rare in the Wizarding World, and thus very expensive. Truly, Harry, you are the best person to own him. I will do my best to make sure that you know how to take care of him."
He looked down, struggling to take all of this in. "Headmaster, when you say slavery… what do you mean?"
"Absolute, Harry. You have absolute and complete control over Severus' life. He owns nothing but what you give him, he can make no important decisions for himself. He is obligated to obey every command you give him however much he may object to it, unless it is in violation of the law. He must also submit himself to any punishment you choose to give him, whether or not he considers it to be justified. He has no legal status except as property, and cannot marry or sign any legally binding contracts.
"Basically, Harry, you could kill him and the Ministry of Magic would do nothing."