A/N: Thank you all for the continued feedback and support. I appreciate it greatly, and it really helps keep me motivated to continue the story. The boys aren't going in the direction I originally imagined, but they're taking me to where the need to be. See previous chapters for the full disclaimer, but I still own nothing (sadly).
Harry wasn't sure how much time had passed when he realized his knees were getting sore. "You think we've been outside long enough for them to be gone?"
Severus looked like he didn't want to answer. "Perhaps we have been gone long enough, but I don't believe your friends will be gone when we go inside, Master. I'm a little surprised they didn't follow us out."
Harry laughed suddenly. "I changed the wards. They could only leave the house through the floo. I'm sure they tried to follow us, but I didn't think that would be productive."
He wondered if the older man would comment on the lack of morality in locking his friends in the house, but he wasn't surprised when Severus merely nodded and said, "Maybe giving them some more time would be wise, Master."
Harry laughed again and found himself leaning against Severus. He was tempted to agree, but he knew it wouldn't make a difference. He straightened reluctantly before saying, "Nah, if they aren't gone they won't be leaving. And it won't get easier to go back in there."
Despite his words he makes no effort to stand up. Severus finally asks softly, "What do you want me to do when we go back inside, Master? You haven't told me how I can make this better."
Harry wished it would be that easy. He shrugged and said, "Probably because I have no idea what to do."
"Would it help if I explained how I came to be your slave, Master?" he asked, dreading the answer. He didn't want to share his history with the two insufferable Gryffindors, but he didn't see another way of helping them to understand why this was important.
Harry stared at him for several long moments. He wanted to squirm and apologize, but he held himself still. "You don't owe them any explanations, Severus. You can tell them whatever you want, but you don't need to say anything you don't want to."
He felt like sighing. While part of him appreciated that Harry didn't want to order him about or hurt him, he knew things would be considerably easier if Harry could assert his wishes a little more effectively. "I want to do anything I can to make things easier for you. I would gladly share anything you wished with anyone. My only desire is to make you happy."
Harry sighed and Severus stiffened. "Severus, it would make me happy if you didn't have to share things you'd rather keep private." He relaxed slightly. He wasn't looking forward to sharing intimate details of his life with students he didn't even like. He was fiercely glad Harry hadn't ordered him one way or another because he knew he would tell them anything if it would lead to Harry's happiness.
Harry stood and put his hand out to help him up. He let Harry help him up and didn't resist when Harry's hand lingered around his own. "I think it might go better if you let me talk to them alone," Harry said as they started to walk back towards the manor.
Severus felt guilty for the wave of relief that rushed through him. "Yes, Master. I'll head to the kitchen and start dinner, if you have no objections."
Harry smiled and he felt fierce joy. He had caused that smile. Despite everything going on, he had been able to do enough to bring his master some amount of joy. For the first time he felt like having the Gryffindors in the manor would not ruin everything.
Harry felt a small wave of jealousy as Severus went straight for the kitchen and he went towards the living room where he could hear Ron and Hermione arguing. His friends abruptly stopped when he walked into the room. He took a deep breath before forcing himself to sound calm as he said, "I expected you two would be gone by now."
Hermione managed to look insulted. "How could you? We've stood by you through so much, we'll figure this out."
"That's not the impression I had before," he said coldly.
Hermione flushed slightly. "I'm sorry if it felt like we were jumping all over you, but I just think you haven't looked at all the options. We'll help with research-"
"No," he interrupted. "I may wish things could be different, but I like to believe I'm grown up to accept what must be. If you are only staying here to try to convince me I'm wrong or find the way to free Severus I really must ask you to leave. It's not that I don't appreciate your friendship, but this is hard enough without having to fight you too."
"Harry, we're your friends. You don't just get to push us away if you don't agree."
"You don't have to agree. But you do need to accept that it is not something you get to control. I don't want to push you away; I want you by my side. But I have more than my desires to think about now."
Hermione rolled her eyes and stomped out of the room. Harry started to follow her, but Ron grabbed his arm. "Let her go, mate. You know how she gets when she can't win an argument." Ron squirmed slightly. "Besides, I thought we should maybe talk too." He raised his eyes at Ron and waited for him to continue.
Ron sighed and looked down. "I guess I owe you an apology. I understand what you were saying, but you also have to understand that this is Snape we're talking about. I thought we hated him."
He sighed. He understood how Ron felt. A few years ago he might have derived some kind of pleasure from his professor's situation. "I don't hate him, at least I don't hate him anymore. I do understand how you felt, but I still don't get your reaction. There isn't anyone I would want to treat the way you talked about treating him."
Ron shrugged like it didn't matter. "Whatever, your slave, your rules. Now you going to show me around this place or not?"
He was thankful to be able to escape into the kitchen, but he worried about what the other two Gryffindors would do to Harry. He knew they weren't a threat to Harry's safety, but he was worried what they might convince Harry of. He had almost completed chopping the vegetables for the stir fry he was making when he heard a small cough behind him. He held in his sigh as he turned around. He was disappointed, although not surprised, to see Hermione behind him. Harry had made it clear he didn't need to serve or obey his friends, but Severus wanted them to be happy so Harry would be happier. "Did you need something, Ms. Granger?"
"I was hoping you might explain to me why I shouldn't be researching spells to free you, sir."
Severus was unable to hold back his sigh anymore. "Is it too much to believe you might simply trust that this is what I want, Ms. Granger?"
"I don't see how that could be true, Professor."
"Ah, I forgot you held all the answer to everything. My apologies."
Hermione blushed fiercely. "No, professor, I just want to understand. Don't you want to be free?"
He wished he could be as naïve to believe that everything was fixed so easily. "No." Hermione looked frustrated so he sighed again and continued, "I ask you to stop trying to convince Mr. Potter to free me. I am thankful every day he has graciously accepted my service. If he were to refuse me or I was to be free of him I would find myself belonging to the Dark Lord once more."
"But we could fix that too then, I'm sure of it!" Hermione stated, looking more excited.
"I assure you, Ms. Granger, it is not possible. Headmaster Dumbledore and I explored every possibility. I am happy with my life, is there anything I could say to get you to leave it alone?" He regretted the edge that entered his voice, but he was struggling with managing his frustrations.
She had gone a bit pale. "I suppose it is like the house elves. I just don't understand," she said softly.
"I assure you, I am no house elf," he said stiffly.
"No, Professor, I only meant that when I worked to free the House Elves they grew very annoyed with me. I hear what you're saying, but I can't help thinking if we were able to free you that you would be happier."
He was frustrated. He may not have everything he wanted, but he could feel himself getting closer every day and this child was going to ruin everything. "I'm sorry that my decisions don't meet with your standards, but I must insist you allow me to make them."
"I'll try, Professor, but I just don't think they're really your decisions," she said softly as she left the kitchen.
He forced himself to focus back on making dinner as he held in the tears that were attempting to escape. Harry already fought his own guilt over the slavery issue, it wouldn't be hard for her to convince Harry that Severus would really be happy and thankful once he was free.
He had to admit showing Ron around his Manor had greatly improved his mood. He hasn't realized just how much he'd missed his mates. Having a family home was great, but he had forgotten how much more important having the people he cared about around was. Hermione found them as they were looking at the library.
"I think you should come back to the Order with us, Harry. I know you think you have things under control, but I really think you'd be safer there. And they could help with the situation with Professor Snape," she said softly.
"It's not their business, Hermione. Just like it's not yours. And I'm not going back there. Not unless you think they have a plan for taking out Voldemort."
"You could help us create a plan, Harry. Think about it!"
"You could help me create a plan here, Hermione. I just found my family home. I'm not leaving yet."
"That'd be brilliant, Harry! Hermione, think of it, we should be working together," Ron said cheerfully.
"I'm happy to help anyway I can, but I don't think I can stay here if you refuse to free Professor Snape. I'm trying to understand where the two of you are coming from, but what you're doing goes against everything I believe in. I really think you should come to the Order and see what they say."
Harry felt his blood turn to ice. "You can't tell them about Severus. It's meant to be a secret, Hermione you have to promise me."
Hermione was quiet for several moments. Ron spoke up, "Er, mate, do you really think no one at school will notice when he calls you 'master'?"
"I'm working on that, but in the meantime you can't tell anyone. We'll deal with people finding out when we're ready.
Ron raised his hands in front of him in a defensive gesture. "You know you can count on me, Harry."
Harry looked at Hermione. She sighed, "I don't think this is a good idea, Harry. Maybe they could help-"
"Hermione, I need you to promise as my friend. Please. I need you to trust me. You can't tell anyone, please."
Severus came into the room and said. "Dinner is ready."
Hermione flushed. "I think it's time for us to be heading back, Ron."
"But, Mione we told them we'd be gone until-"
"Ron, I think it's time for us to go. Thank you for having us, Harry, Professor."
Harry thought he should feel more disappointed that his best friends were leaving so soon, but he was surprised to find he only felt relieved. He would miss them, but he wouldn't miss how complicated everything had gotten while they were visiting.
He had debated going upstairs to announce dinner being ready or waiting until they came down to find it on their own. He finally decided he needed to go upstairs so he could ensure everything was all right and Harry didn't need his help.
He winced when Ms. Granger announced that she and Mr. Weasley would be leaving so soon. He was sure it was his fault. He looked imploringly at Harry for some hint of what he should do to make things better. Maybe he should have hidden in his room or left the manor. He opened his mouth to offer to leave, but Harry shook his head no slightly.
Harry said goodbye to his friends and just stood facing the floo for several minutes after.
Severus wasn't sure what he should do, but he couldn't ignore the bond urging him to try something. "I'm sorry, Master. What can I do?" he asked softly.
Harry turned around looking confused. He softly finished whispering a spell. "What are you sorry for?"
"I'm sorry your friends left. I know you were hoping they would remain until school started back up, Master."
"Oh, right. Well, they kind of highlighted some issues I need to work on, so I really don't mind. It was kind of more awkward, don't you think?"
He couldn't think of what to say. Of course it had been awkward, he could have told his master that as soon as the idea struck him. "But they're your friends-"
"Shh. They are my best mates, they always will be. But it's fine. The most important part was that they knew I was safe, and they do. They're going back to help the order, they both were inducted this summer. Besides, there is no way Hermione wasn't driving you insane," Harry said with a small smile.
He didn't want to agree, but it was true. He didn't know how he would have continued to tolerate her, but he knew he would if his master required it. "It wouldn't have been so bad if she could have accepted that I know my own thoughts and desires."
Harry laughed and Severus felt warmth spread across his body. "That's Mione for you."
He didn't know how to answer so he decided to change the subject, "What were you doing just now, Master?"
Harry shrugged, "Oh that? I was changing the wards back to only accepting our magical signatures. It's not that I don't trust them, but I don't think the order is going to take it quietly that I'm out here on my own."
He had to admit that Harry had a point, but he still felt uncomfortable at being the reason why Harry wasn't getting to be with his friends.
He headed down to dinner with Severus following behind him. He got to the table and stopped when he realized it was only set for three. "Why is the table set for three, Severus?"
"I had assumed your friends would be staying, Master. I will clear that away immediately, I'm sorry."
Harry sighed. "No, I understood you thought they would be joining us, but why wasn't there a setting for you?"
"I thought that would make things more awkward, Master," Severus said softly as he looked at the ground.
Harry paused to consider the best way to handle this issue. He didn't want to scare Severus, but he wanted to ensure the older man understood that his comfort was equally important. He gently cupped Severus's face and tilted it so he could meet his eyes. "It would have been awkward either way, but I don't want you to ever act like other witches and wizards are more important than you. You may be my slave, but that doesn't have to be how the rest of the world treats you."
Harry gently stroked Severus's face before releasing the man and sitting at the table. Halfway through dinner he cleared his throat. "Do you know who the Headmaster will be this year?"
Severus looked surprised at the question, but he answered promptly, "I believe it will be Professor McGonagall."
He nodded thoughtfully. "That's good, I think she will be open to a meeting. A little tricky since she is a member of the order, but I'm sure we can figure something out."
"Figure what out Master?"
Harry sighed. "Well seeing their reactions told me that we're going to have to have a good plan before going back to Hogwarts. I would like to believe we could manage it on our own, but I have the feeling we will need the help." He paused as he realized he was planning for Severus's life without consulting him. He flushed, "If that sounds ok to you, Severus?"
"Of course, Master."
Harry held in his sigh. "No, I don't want you to answer automatically like that. If you don't want to talk to her we won't. I don't want to force you."
He started to reassure Harry, but he paused. His master wanted his actual opinion. Tonight had already gone better than he ever could have dreamt. He expected that the unsuccessful visit would have set them back, but Harry had touched him more than ever and was now seeking his honest opinions. Slowly he said, "I don't know how it will help things, but I would honestly not mind discussing our situation with Professor McGonagall."
Harry smiled and Severus couldn't help returning the expression. "Excellent, I'll write her tomorrow and we'll schedule something. It'll be ok, I promise."
Severus had his doubts that everything would work out that easily, but he couldn't deny the feeling that things would be ok. He could feel the bond getting stronger, and for the first time intimacy felt like a real possibility.