Disclaimer: I do not own "Harry Potter" or the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Chapter Ninety-One
"Starting Over"

He crossed his arms over his chest, unfolded them, and then folded them again. He felt too dominant regardless of whether he held his legs tightly together, sprawled out, or even crossed over one another.

If he had it his way, he would be able to curl up in a ball on the carpet, but he had a feeling that the New Doctor would have a long list of things to say about that.

"Hello, I am Dr. Gibbons." An old man walked into the room. He wore simple brown robes over a Muggle jumper and trousers. Most of his grey hair had fallen out, and he wore his beard trimmed short. He had thick brown glasses that he used to better examine Severus. "You must be Severus."

While talking with Ginny over Christmas dinner, Master had gotten the name of a wizarding doctor who she thought could help him. Ginny had assured Master that he was the best, if not one of the only, wizarding therapists in the country. Master had owled for an appointment, not realising at the time just how badly Severus would need to go.

Shortly after Molly completed the Firecall, a curly red-haired young woman tumbled out of the Floo. She looked around, puzzled, before her eyes landed on Severus. "Hey, Severus. What's up?"

Ginny spent her life studying the mentally ill. She had undergone a severe trauma in her first year at Hogwarts, and had since made it her life's mission to help those who could not help themselves. Therefore, she was the perfect person to Firecall.

"I think I am going crazy," he said, slowly.

A strange looked crossed her freckled face. She knelt and offered him her hand. "Oh, sweetie, come here."

Severus nodded. "Yes, sir."

Dr. Gibbons took a seat in the armchair opposite Severus. "Is Mr. Potter here today? I was certain I would be talking to the both of you."

Mater had been gone for over three weeks. The first two weeks had gone without incident; however, things had gotten very messy last week. For three days, he had asked Weasley family members to stay with him around the clock just to ensure that he did not try to tear his arm off again. The constant hovering ended when he regained some control over his emotions, but the pain was still raw.

"Master is in the Auror training programme and got pulled for a 'secret mission'. We do not know when he will be back, but I presume it will be within the next week."

"Ah. That will explain why he never responded to my last letter." Dr. Gibbons made a note in his notebook. "Mr. Potter caught me up on the gist of why you are here, though I am sure I am missing most of the finer details-"

He most certainly was, as Master was not currently aware of the finer details.

"-so why don't I tell you a little bit about myself, so we can be on the same sheet of parchment? As I've said, my name is Dr. Richard Gibbons. I would like it if you could call me Richard, if you don't mind. I think it's important that I am on equal level with all of my clients, and I am not planning on making an exception to that rule." Dr. Gibbons was serious. "Just to be clear, if I ever ask a question or say anything you might perceive as an order, it is not. I have never had a slave as a client before, so you'll forgive me if I make a few mistakes. This will be a learning experience for me.

"I have been practising for fifty years. I work with all people, but do work primarily with people who are working with personality disorders, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse." The man looked closely at Severus as he spoke, as if anticipating a reaction. "These struggles are common amongst those who have had bad things happen to them."

Was the man expecting Severus to deny he had such problems? There was not a time in his life in which he would have denied that exceptionally bad things had happened to him, and after the week he had just experienced, he doubted that he ever would.

"When I first began my practise, therapy was far more common in the wizarding world than it was in the Muggle world. Today, there has been something of a 180-degree shift; when it comes to those who have experienced trauma, the wizards want to Obliviate and the Muggles want to talk about their feelings. Well, medicate, too." Dr. Gibbons smiled. "I live with my wife in southern London. We have three beautiful children who are all grown. One is an architect, and the other two are working their ways through law school. I have two beautiful granddaughters named Sally and Bridget, and spend most of my free time with them. They like Quidditch, but I am getting a little too old to play."

Severus had turned forty-one last week, and felt far too old to play Quidditch. He was not sure how at how at least seventy, Dr. Gibbons was just now nearing an age where he felt he was too old to play the sport.

"Tell me a bit about yourself, Severus," Dr. Gibbons said. "Your master, again, gave me a very broad overview, and I recall reading bits in the papers several years ago, but I would appreciate your perspective, and hearing a bit about your life."

It was likely a universal problem amongst slaves; they had little practise introducing themselves. Few people cared to know any details about their lives, and Severus could not blame them. In particular, his past was not at all flattering, and his current life none-too-interesting.

Still, there was an obvious place to start. "I have been owned by Harry Potter for approximately twenty-one months. We live near Devon, with Master's son and cat." My cat. While Teddy's parentage was still under consideration, Gik belonged entirely to Severus. He had not struggled to claim her as his for some time; however, when being introduced to a new person, it made sense to be cautious.

Dr. Gibbons was quiet, waiting for Severus to continue. "I work at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley most days of the week. I pick Teddy up from school at four, and make a meal for the three of us. Sometimes, Master gets home late." He chewed on his lower lip as he thought of something of interest to say, before remembering that damaging his lip was yet another old habit he had recently picked back up.

"I see," Dr. Gibbons finally spoke, when it became clear that Severus had nothing more to say. "Your master said that he attempts to treat you as if you aren't a slave."

Severus had not seen the letters the two men had written each other in the few days after Christmas. It seemed as though they had covered a lot of ground in that time. "Yes, he tries."

Dr. Gibbons' gaze was piercing. "But you call him 'Master'."

"It is the law. Even if I disobeyed in private, I am not sure the enslavement curse would allow it." Severus tried to explain. "Master does not like it, but he is working on it."

"I see." Dr. Gibbons said again. He rubbed his beard. "So Master Potter said that-"

"-Mr. Potter." Severus interrupted. His forehead flared at the correction.

Dr. Gibbons paused. "How can we be equals if we address a prominent figure in your life so differently?"

One year ago, Severus had called everyone in his life by a title. Even Teddy had been "young Master Teddy" until relatively recently. Now, the only people he ever referred to by a title was, of course, Master and his former owners. He imagined that should he ever meet anyone important, which he likely would through Master's future work at the Ministry, he would grant them a title as well.

He understood Dr. Gibbons' efforts for equality. It made sense, particularly within a setting such as therapy. However, a line had to be drawn. "Dr. Gibbons, I find it unacceptable that-"

"-Richard." Dr. Gibbons interrupted. His smile was patient. "I see we have a way to go. Severus, I understand you were once a professor."

"For eighteen long years," Severus stiffly said. He rarely spoke about his past life, even to Master. He understood that had to change, but he was reluctant to, given the events of the past week.

"Once in the academy, always in the academy, according to some professor friends of mine." He spoke with his hands. It was distracting to watch him wave while emphasising seemingly random words. "Now, I could call you 'Professor Snape'."

Hearing the words 'Professor Snape' made his skin crawl, and he momentarily thought he might be sick. "I would rather you not."

Dr Gibbons took his glasses off, and began waving them as he spoke. "I go to these conferences every now and then, and these researchers come up and introduce themselves. 'Hallo, Dr. Gibbons, it is nice to meet you', they say. I respond with, 'yes, nice to meet you Dr. Davies'."

He stared at the man. How did Master find the most incessantly chatty old man in all of the U.K. to be his therapist?

"It is pretentious," Dr. Gibbons finished. "We are both adults, reasonably well-respected in our fields. We don't need to use titles, as long as there is an understanding of mutual respect, don't you agree?"

In Dr. Gibbons' scenario, there were presumably two well-trained doctors conversing. In this scenario, it was doctor and slave. While Severus was willing to ignore some rules and pretend as if their interactions were not more power dynamics of which he was at the weaker end, there was one problem. "One of my former masters was named Richard, and any thought of him is, at present, a negative one."

"Ah. Well, my mother always liked to call me 'Dick'. Never understood how that was short for Richard, but it certainly is better than 'Rich'. Never met a man by that name that I liked." Dr. Gibbons smiled, and extended his hand. "Nice to meet you, Severus; I'm Dick."

Severus stared at the extended hand. How long had it been since someone offered him a handshake? He tried to think back, but could not recall a single instance in the last two and one-half years in which someone thought to shake his hand.

Paris. Someone tried to shake his hand in Paris. He couldn't remember if he had accepted.

Was it acceptable for him to shake another person's hand? To shake someone's hand was often to close an agreement, which Severus was unable to formally make. Was it acceptable, however, as a greeting or parting gesture? Master Mering had not covered that, and Weasleys were prone to hugs.

This would not have been as big of an issue for you only a few weeks ago. He had slowly begun regressing in many different ways since Master's absence. It had accelerated since running into Master Weston, and he, the man who had once prided himself on his ability to both self-regulate and self-control, did not know how to make it stop.

He rubbed his forehead. "Dick, I agree that we should begin again. However, perhaps it would be more prudent to skip this part until I'm of a more sound mind."

The smile was gone from the doctor's face. He nodded solemnly. "That sounds great."

The Floo was a common security loophole in most residences. It was not uncommon for people to have their Floo connection open, so that they could visit different places at their convenience. At the very least, people had a tendency to connect their Floo to their place of work, school, or favourite shops.

Harry didn't have that luxury. He was the-Boy-Who-Lived-With-Too-Much-Curiousity-About-His-Personal-Life. He had learned, shortly after buying his home, that there was no limit to the number of people who would try to show up at his front door to thank him, ask him for his autograph, bring him supper, or threaten him with bodily harm. It would be different if he lived alone; however, he had Severus and a small child to protect, responsibilities that Harry took very seriously.

The warding around the house was now almost impenetrable to anyone who did not have prior clearance. Teddy's room was still armed to alert them to any movement after dark. Their Floo was connected to each Weasley residence, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, and Hogwarts.

While all of that meant his home was secure, it also meant that going home from work was a pain in the arse. He watched, jealous as his cohorts lined up at the Floos to go home after twenty-seven long days working in the field.

He would have to go out the front door, walk until he was in a safe Apparition-zone, and then walk up to his front door. While it only took an extra ten minutes out of his day, that was ten more minutes that he was away from his family.

Twenty-seven days is too long, he thought as he pulled on a bucket hat to conceal his face. You should not have been gone that long. What were you thinking? They need you home.

He had planned on being an Auror since he was about fifteen. It had seemed like the perfect career for him, as it required skills he was uncommonly good at, and did not require your typical schooling, which he was uncommonly not good at. It was interesting to learn about countries around the world and how to brew life-saving potions when there was a practical use for it; as much as he complained about his job, he really did enjoy it.

Unlike his Auror trainee cohorts, however, he had a family. He couldn't afford to make the programme his first and only priority, because he had people who depended on him. He wasn't supposed to be spending a majority of his time trying to figure out how to protect the country, if he couldn't spend any time taking care of Severus and his son.

He Appartated into the front garden, and was unable to prevent the wide smile on his face at the sight of his little house. As Severus promised, it hadn't burned down, and as it was late afternoon on a Thursday, there was almost a guarantee that both Severus and Teddy would both be home.

Don't scare him. Harry made sure to make noise when going up the verandah steps. Severus was a far cry from the snivelling mess he had been just over a year before, but Harry would always take precautions. He would always assume that Severus would not react well to being caught off guard, and as Harry wasn't able to send notice of when he would be arriving home, he didn't want to startle anyone.

He knocked on the door before cracking it open and sticking his head inside. "Anybody home?"

He heard rustling from the sitting room. "I do believe your daddy is home."

At the sound of the deep voice, Harry's heart soared. He hadn't realised how much he missed hearing it.

Severus appeared from around the corner, with Teddy hanging off his leg. He barely recognised the toddler, who seemed much taller and thinner than he had only weeks before. His hair, bubble-gum pink, had grown past his ears, and his nose was smeared with what looked like tomato sauce.

Rather than jumping into his arms as Harry anticipated, Teddy hid behind Severus' robes.

"Do not pressure him. He will warm up to you again in a few moments." Severus' hair was tied back off his face, revealing a red inflamed forehead. He smelled strongly of petrol and smoke, a combination that would have been alarming had Harry not taken it as a stronger indicator that Severus had just returned from a typical day at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes.

It was not easy to hide his disappointment at Teddy's idea of a warm welcome. Harry had been gone for nearly four weeks, and in that time his son had grown shy toward him. Harry wouldn't insist on a hug, as consenting to be touched was kind of a big deal for the Potter-Snape-Lupin household. However, the pain in his heart did serve as yet another reminder of how much he was truly giving up to become an Auror.

"With his reservations noted, you need not hesitate to bestow your affections upon me." A small smile played on Severus' lips.

Harry leaned in and enveloped Severus in a hug. He was able to nearly wrap his arms around Severus twice, and yet only squeezed harder. With his cheek against Severus' chest, he could feel his bones jutting out against his face. Although it sounded uncomfortable and bizarre, it was somehow comforting. The moment that they embraced, Harry felt all the tension he didn't know he had melt away, and after a short while, he felt Severus relax, too.

Severus pulled away, placing his large nose against Harry's. "You have no idea how much you were missed," he said in a low voice.

Harry licked his lips. "Neither do you."

For a moment, Severus lingered, leaving Harry to wonder if he had anything else in mind. Suddenly, however, he broke away with a sharp intake of breath.

Twenty-seven days was a long time to go without the person you loved. He regularly went weeks without seeing people that he liked – it had been months since he last saw Neville or Seamus, for example. In his past relationships, his significant others had grown irritated when days had gone by without word from him. He supposed he had seemed rather cold when he dismissed their concerns as being too clingy, because he understood it now.

He had spent twenty-seven days with a pit of pain in his stomach. It was a pain he felt even when distracted or focused on something else. It was the pain of missing someone. He would have never thought it would hurt to go without contact with Severus when he had previously gone days without contacting girlfriends or boyfriends.

He supposed Javier, the man he had seen for a few months last year, was right; he had long loved Severus more than people that he dated. He felt like a flat battery in need of recharge. His way of charging – cuddling, holding hands, and talking to him – would unfortunately have to wait however.

Severus groaned as he bent down and picked Teddy up. "Teddy, who do you think told your dad that he could attempt to grow a beard? Do you suppose we should tell him the truth?"

Was he doing the right thing? That was one of the chief questions that had loomed over his head during the past several weeks. As Teddy slowly warmed up to him and showered him with slobbery kisses, and ran around the house screeching with glee that his daddy was home, he began to feel less certain about his decisions.

Later, as he laid in bed with Severus, he considered asking him for his opinion. He not only valued Severus' input, but regardless of the nature of their relationship, they were in a partnership. A year ago, any decisions Harry made was his own business, but that was a habit he had to get out of. Even if he was pretty sure on what he was going to do, he needed to agree with Severus before acting on a decision.

"Can I touch your head?" It was difficult to transition into asking permission to touch his forehead, but really, he was ashamed that he hadn't done so long ago. He always felt like it was his job to protect Severus, but it wasn't. It was his job to be there if Severus asked for help, but not to invasively intervene.

Severus was lying with his head on Harry's shoulder, his free arm wrapped tightly around Harry's torso. His inflamed forehead was so close to Harry's face that he could almost feel heat radiating from it.

Severus hesitated. "I do not believe that it will help until I speak to you about this past week."

Any questions Harry had asked thus far had been dismissed by Severus with one word: "Later." He was sure that whatever confession was inevitably coming had been warped in Severus' mind to have bigger significance than it actually did, as that was usually the case.

"Short of deliberating harming Teddy – which I know you would never do – you don't really have anything to apologise for. Your forehead is mostly caused by your conscience, and not the curse, and so you should know that you have nothing to feel bad about."

Severus' silence was alarming, and made Harry suspect that something he had said struck a chord. "But I think you should tell me anyway, because I'm me, not because I'm your master."

Severus stiffened. He slid his arm off Harry and clasped his hand instead. He entwined their fingers together, sorting through Harry's as if they were somehow interesting. "If I do tell you," Severus spoke slowly, "you must promise to give me the space and respect my agency by allowing me to handle the situation on my own."

Here we go. Again, Harry wanted to do everything he could to both prevent and cure Severus' pain. Being told that he could do nothing but stand by helplessly was difficult. It was just so hard to let go; he now understood Mrs. Weasley's habits of mothering and hovering.

He sighed. "Reluctantly, yes, I promise. I keep wanting to add a condition like 'unless I see that you need help', but that's not what you're asking. You're forty; you're old enough to handle it."

Forty-one. Fuck, he had missed Severus' birthday.

Severus did not correct him. "Indeed. In return, I promise to tell you should I think, for more than a moment, that I may need your help."

Harry relaxed. That was a compromise he was more than happy to make. "Thanks."

For some time, Severus did not speak. He wouldn't look at him, instead continuing to play with their hands. There was such a contrast between Harry's small calloused hands and Severus' long scarred ones.

He began to grow concerned. "Severus," he said gently, "where is your mind at right now?"

Severus took a deep breath before letting out a bitter chuckle. "Somewhere dark."

Harry tightened his grip around Severus. Feelings of panic and guilt began to fill him, but it was important for him to stay calm. "You want to take me there?"

Severus dropped his hand and returned his arm to its former position around Harry. "While you were gone, I had something of a breakdown."

A coldness filled him and he momentarily forgot to breathe. This was why he had to quit the programme. It was his job to be around to help Severus through things like that, and he was failing. "How bad?"

"You may recall last winter when I lowered the Occlumency shields." Severus paused, allowing Harry to remember the three days of rotating sobs and angry screams from Severus' room, before continuing. "It was worse than that."

Unexpectedly, Harry felt anger. How dare people treat others so poorly that they were so traumatised years later. It was sickening that people could view Severus as part of a sub-human sub-group. It was why he had to become an Auror, to prevent it from happening again, and also why he had to stay home, to take care of someone who had endured far too much pain.

Another bitter chuckle. "I am livid, as well. I am angry at myself for being so terrified to tell you what happened. While I do not know what you will say, I can be sure that you will not say what I am most afraid of."

Harry placed a kiss through Severus' hair. "You never have to be afraid to tell me anything."

Severus became a little less tense. "I saw Master Weston."

He swore. "Did he hurt you?"

"No." Severus voice began to shake. "However, I realised for the first time that he could have. He has done it before."

Richard Weston was a horrible man and sexual deviant who had once owned Severus for three months. Harry was reasonably well-informed of what had occurred during those three months, and the horrors had kept him awake nights. Severus, however, did not seem bothered by the events. He had been changed and damaged by them, but had never acknowledged it. Instead, he spent hours crying at Weston's betrayal.

Harry hated Weston. He tried at times to hide it from Severus, but it wasn't easy. How could you comfort someone grieving the loss of a terrible person? It made him ill to know that, to Severus, Weston and Harry were both considered "master". Harry killed himself every day to help Severus thrive. He had spent an incredible amount of money on purchasing him, and had since spent a simply obscene number of Galleons on Severus physical and mental health. There was not a bodily fluid Severus could create that Harry had not been covered in at least once, and he were getting paid for the hours he had stayed awake to hold the man, he wouldn't ever have to worry about said money that he had spent on his health.

He did not expect anything from Severus. He had helped Severus initially because it was the right thing to do, and later because he loved him. He did not require Severus to love him in return, or to return the favours in any way, as if he even could. He did think his effort and sacrifices were worth a small amount of respect, which Severus more than gave him. Severus did love him, and frequently show it by how he attempted to ease Harry's life in whatever way possible. However, he gave that same respect to, and spoke quite fondly of, Weston, a man who had repeatedly tortured and forcefully sodomised him.

It made Harry furious. Not at Severus, because it was not Severus' fault. He was angry at the rat-bastard who had deserved more than a mauling outside Knockturn Alley.

He has done it before. Severus' admission that Weston had harmed him was new. When discussing the matter with both Harry and Doctor Brown, Severus had always insisted that it was his owners' place to "use" him as they saw fit. He had differentiated their abuse of him from sexual assault, which Dr. Brown said was a defence-mechanism.

"When you say he hurt you in the past, are you talking about being sold, emotionally, or otherwise?" Harry was very still, afraid to startle Severus.

Severus suddenly stood. He swiped at his forehead somewhat erratically as he paced back and forth in the bedroom. As his feet were so mangled, he was forced to place weight on them in unnatural positions, which made him seem rather unbalanced.

"They have all raped me, Master. I am aware of that, now, and while it does need discussed, it is not what I have to confess to you." Severus wouldn't look at him as he paced.

Harry sat up. He felt the world spin at the blood moved from his head; he needed sleep so badly, but there were more pressing matters. "All right."

"I did something illogical." Severus stopped, and stared down at Harry. He towered over him, his shadow on the wall identical to that of Professor Snape, which Harry would have found amusing under any other circumstance.

"I find that hard to believe."

Severus did not move. "I attempted to remove the Dark Mark."

A chill ran up Harry's spine. Until the end of his fourth year at Hogwarts, he had never seen the skull and snake design that symbolised loyalty to Voldemort. When Severus had moved into his home, he was initially uncomfortable at the sight at the tattoo; however, as Severus was both afraid of water and clothing at the time, Harry had quickly grown used to it.

The Dark Mark was impossible to remove. It was permanently spelled onto Severus' body by one of the most powerful wizards of all time, who was no longer alive to remove it if it were possible. It was significantly more likely that the enslavement curse would someday be removed than the Dark Mark; it would be, without a doubt, with Severus forever.

He tried to remove it. With what? Why would he try that? It was useless for Harry to try and see the connections that Severus made in his mind, He only understood how much he loved Severus, and how it hurt for him to think that Severus would ever hurt himself in that way.

In the nearly two years Harry had been both a parent and a master, he had learned that one of the greatest tools in his arsenal was not a spell or his status as one of the world's most powerful wizards; it was his ability to stay calm. If he could manage to not show fear or overreact, situations diffused quicker, with little emotional carnage and tears.

He took a deep breath. "May I see?"

Severus hesitated, holding his left arm close to his body. "I would rather you not. I quickly realised my mistake, and Firecalled for Ginevra. She helped me to heal it, and organised her family's schedule so that I spent the next several days supervised." He paused. "She also said that she was behind Master Weston's rat attack."

Ginny and Harry were finally speaking again, and were on better terms than ever. While there had been no hard feelings following their break up, Ginny's decision to date Weston's son had driven them apart. When Harry had revealed his sexual orientation to Ginny, it also, somewhat expectedly, hadn't gone well. However, somehow they had ended up repairing their friendship so that they were closer than ever; hearing about the rat attack was not at all surprising, and shouldn't have made him as happy as it did.

"Master, I told the new therapist what I did. I would rather not show it to anyone again, if possible." Severus said.

That wasn't possible. Regardless of what the next two hundred years looked like for Harry and Severus, he was sure that they would continue to live in close proximity to one another. Given their relationship, he was sure he would see it many more times, whether Severus shared his bed as a significant other or as a dear friend. He would see it if Severus ever needed to bathe again, or if they passed each other while getting dressed in the morning.

Harry got up, and knelt in front of Severus. He grasped Severus' left wrist, and looked up. "I'm asking as Harry. As Master, not your master; please roll up your sleeve."

Confusion was clear in Severus' eyes, but he did comply. "What are you doing?"

It looked the same as always. The pale, painfully thin arm was littered in small scars that were barely noticeable, as the jet-black Dark Mark was quick to grab one's attention. It almost looked too big for his arm now that Severus had lost so much weight. Harry ran his fingers up and down the Mark, noticing that Severus had healed it well, as there were no new scars present.

He leaned and placed a gentle kiss on the Mark. It was just like the rest of Severus' arm; cold, but otherwise unremarkable.

Severus pulled back on his arm. "Master, I-"

"Why are you pulling away?" Harry did not let go of Severus' wrist. He would never allow himself to do anything Severus was afraid of. Their relationship, whether platonic or sexual in nature, hinged on trust. If Severus feared being taken advantage of, Harry would stop. However, if his concerns were silly, it was only a sign that Harry needed to continue. He knew he would be acting presumptuously, choosing for Severus which concerns were silly, but he was willing to take a chance on this one.

It took a few moments for Severus to answer. "It is inappropriate for you to touch your lips to the Dark Mark, Master. What it represents is evil, and it is all you have sacrificed and worked toward-"

Harry interrupted with more kisses, placed slowly and deliberately, on Severus' forearm. Like most people, Severus was imperfect. He had been placed in a disadvantageous situation as a child, and had made some poor decisions. Most of his decisions since then, some good and some bad, were all an attempt to rectify those poor decisions. Harry understood that, but he did not care. If anything, he loved it about Severus.

After all, other people were just as imperfect; their circumstances allowed them to better hide it.

Harry had done a lot of thinking while he was away. One conclusion he had come to was that while some people were lucky enough to love someone with superficial problems and concerns, he wasn't one of them. He loved Severus, who was damaged seemingly beyond repair, cranky, incredibly sassy, and who had greasy hair. He loved him like he had never loved anyone else, and while away, his thoughts were consumed by him.

The Dark Mark was a part of Severus. It wasn't a pretty part, but that was okay. Harry loved all parts of Severus; it seemed silly to ignore one part because it, at one time, had been used for evil purposes.

He looked up to see tears spotting Severus' eyes. He had an urge to kiss those away as well, but wouldn't. He had promised Severus that he would allow him to take the first, if any, steps toward a more sexual relationship, and kissing him beyond a brief peck on the cheek would break that promise.

"I love you," Harry said, looking directly into Severus' dark eyes. "I love you so much."

"I am not done." Severus reached for Harry's hands and pulled him to his feet. "This is the part I am afraid to tell you."

That wasn't the part Severus was afraid to tell Harry? He was not sure how he could brace himself for what came next. His mind ran faster than any broomstick as he tried to sort out the possibilities. Had he used the Occlumency shields to excess? Had he drank too much alcohol as a way to cope, the way Severus' father would have? Had he "disobeyed" Harry in a way that was truly horrible?

"I was not initially aware, but Teddy saw me do it. He also, for a moment, saw me with Master Weston."

Harry relaxed. That was a situation he was much more equipped to deal with. While he was content with keeping a hawk-eye on Severus as he dealt with his issues concerning being raped and Dark Mark, he wouldn't have known what to do had Severus told him something worse.

He was, without doubt, quitting the Auror training programme. He clearly had no other choice. While it was something that he had really wanted to accomplish, it was obviously not meant to be. He had other obligations to take care of at home that were far more important than saving the wizarding world yet again.

Harry's heart went out to Teddy, who had probably been terrified at the sight of Severus attempting to remove the Dark Mark. He knew how close the two were, however, and had trouble believing that the experience would ultimately be too detrimental.

Teddy had little concept of slavery or ownership. He seemed to think it was quite normal for Severus to kneel at Harry's feet, or to call Harry "Master". To Teddy, it was normal to have parents who fought about power dynamics rather than who did the dishes, and to witness adults crying almost as much as they laughed. Harry did not worry that growing up in that mess would harm Teddy, because he figured that as long as Teddy knew how much love was shared in their home, he would probably be okay.

He reached up and wrapped his arms around Severus' neck. Rather than going in for a hug, he stared at him in the eyes. "Severus, Teddy is going to have lots of memories of you in a bad state. He's going to remember these things, especially because they probably aren't going anywhere as he gets older. That doesn't mean anything. It might scare him now, but we've just got to find a way to teach him that you are okay, even if it doesn't look like it. He doesn't see you as weak now, and he won't. He's going to grow up and realise that you're the strongest man he knows."

He paused, and considered the situation with Weston. That was only problematic because Harry wasn't sure how to protect Severus from future interactions with the man. While they could practise defensive spells, it was not fair for Severus to walk around afraid that he would be attacked by the man. He was not at all worried about what Teddy saw, because it likely hadn't phased him.

"This isn't as if he walked in on you cheating on me." Harry cringed at how poorly-timed that analogy was. "It was probably confusing for him to see you kneel in front of another man, but if he still remembers it as he gets older, we can talk about it. It's not a big deal."

Severus' dark eyes searched Harry. Finally, he said, "You are far too forgiving."

Harry wanted to laugh. He began to sway back and forth, recollecting the dance lessons Severus had given him only months ago. "I think this is a good time to say 'welcome to parenting'. Do you know how many times I've accidentally dropped him, on his head, down the stairs? At least once, but that's one time too many. I once put straight Firewhiskey in his juice cup, when I was really tired. I don't think I changed his nappies enough when he was little, and now, I let a sitter watch him most of the time, instead of raising him myself."

Too many times, Harry had beat himself up over making what felt like major mistakes in parenting. He had since learned to relax, and to do his best. Short of casting an Obliviate on the small child, there was nothing they could do but let him know he was loved, and then move forward while trying to make fewer mistakes.

"I love you," Harry said again, his eyes on Severus' swollen forehead. "Can I touch you now?"

Severus moved his hands to Harry's shoulders as they moved back and forth to the sound of no music. "In a moment. Master, I know this is a foolish question, but I must ask."

He waved his hand. "Do you know how many stupid questions I've asked you? Ask away."

Severus' smile was thin and short-lasting. "I have been, ah... hurt by nearly all of my owners. Master Mering and Master Weston both forced me to sleep with other people, as well. I do not remember what happened at the Monster's."

In the thick file Harry had gotten when he bought Severus, there were long, magically-updated lists documenting his entire life. Each tooth he had lost, every minor illness or injury, as well as every sexual partner, was documented. Out of respect for Severus' privacy, he hadn't paid close attention to it upon purchasing him. However, between the three lists, he knew he could probably form pretty good theories of what happened while Severus was owned by König.

A credit to his strength, Severus somehow managed to not get weepy while talking. He looked deep into Harry's eyes, so that Harry would have wondered if he were using Legilimency had he not known Severus would never do such a thing. "You are aware of this, and still claim to love me."

"I do love you," was all Harry could say in response.

"How?" Severus demanded in a raspy voice. He stopped dancing with Harry. "How could you want to touch me after knowing what-"

That was a sentence Harry was not going to allow him to finish. He leaned forward and wrapped Severus in the tightest hug he could manage.

Severus was twenty years older than Harry. He had taught him in school for six years, and had once fancied himself in love with Harry's mum. He was owned by Harry. All of those things were things that were worth extensive thought when considering a sexual relationship, as they called into question experience gaps, power, and the legitimacy of their feelings toward each other.

The fact that Severus had been "used" by his other masters was not at all a factor for Harry, except that it meant he had to be both sensitive and responsible when it came to dealing with such issues.

He pulled away, and took Severus' face into his hands. "Listen to me, you darling, crazy, old man. I know what happened. I have known what happened. That will never make you less valuable to me. Love doesn't work like that."

Some people's loves were spontaneous. Their eyes caught from across the room and, at first sight, they fell in love. Harry had slowly come to the conclusion that he would never feel that. His own experience was slow, found after years of distress and sleepless nights. When glances were shared from across the room, they were with someone whom he had known, on some level, for nearly ten years. It was not at all spontaneous, as it seemed some had even suspected it. He had fallen in love – if he understood what those words properly meant – so slowly he hadn't even realised it was happening until it was too late.

"Before I left, we talked about talking about where we are." Harry paused. So much had changed, between Severus' meeting with Weston and Harry's realisation that if he was going to seriously pursue the relationship, he had to be far more committed than most people were when in such a position.

"I recall." Severus seemed steadied, more like his normal self. It never failed to make Harry's heart soar when Severus looked into his eyes, as he had once never thought that would be possible.

Harry took a deep breath. "It's probably a good thing we didn't, because I think after the month we've had, both of our expectations have shifted. Let's start fresh, with both of us on the same page. Let's make some time to plan this out, if you're still interested. "

Severus nodded, moving Harry's hands from his face. "I am; however, as you have pointed out, I may need more time before I am prepared to even discuss the matter. I have some, ah... incorrect thoughts that need addressed."

That was all Harry could hope to hear. It would be beneficial for him to have a few more days himself to re-evaluate, as well.

Severus chuckled. "Perhaps we should finish this conversation over breakfast, however; you look as if you are going to fall asleep standing up."

It didn't matter, as it didn't look like Harry would be going back to work. That made him sad, and a little angry to think about, but he also felt so much relief. The programme put an enormous amount of stress on him.

"Can I touch your forehead before we sleep?"

Severus hesitated, before nodding his consent. At Harry's touch, his eyes rolled into the back of his head. His lips parted, and he let out a small moan. By the time Harry removed his hand, the slave brand was barely noticeable on his forehead.

Coming up next in Unwell...
Chapter Ninety-Two: An Unbreakable Vow

A/N: Thank you to everyone who has continued to read and be supportive of this story. It means so much!