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Rouge

R / 4,300 words / hurt/comfort, romance / published 01/10/14 / For Accioslash

Summary: Every year at Christmas, Severus secretly buys himself something special. This year, Harry finds out. Established relationship, SS/HP.

Warnings: Cross-dressing, gender confusion

Disclaimer: The brilliant characters belong solely to J.K. Rowling. The plot and typos are my own. No profit is being made.

A/N: Written for the "Secret Snarry Swap 2013" fest on Snape_Potter. Thanks to my recipient, Accioslash, for suggesting this amazing prompt. It really captured me and I hope what I've done here tickles at least some of the itch. Thanks also to my beta, ChooseToLive, who always makes me dig deeper, even when I think I've already got it all on the page, and to Tamzen, who offered me some valuable insight and perspective.



Severus Snape was an expert at hiding things he didn't want others to know. He supposed his nearly twenty years as a spy had harnessed his faculty for that – or perhaps it had been his proclivity for subterfuge in the first place that'd made him perfectly suited for the role. Either way, he'd had a lot of practice. For close to forty years, he'd protected that most sacred and valuable part of himself, nurturing it out into the open only when he deemed it wise or necessary to do so.

Today was one of those times.

Closing the door of the bedroom, Severus made his way to the large armoire that flanked the wall opposite the bed. As he wrapped a hand around its cool, metal knob, he paused to listen to the house around him. Silence. Solitude was an unfortunate necessity for… this.

From the bottom drawer, Severus pulled out a small, flat parcel. It was brown and innocuous-looking: a shipping box that had arrived the day before by Muggle post. After enlarging the package to its original size, Severus opened the flaps and prepared to get his first glimpse of the contents inside. The anticipation made his pulse quicken, tapping a staccato rhythm against his throat.

He was five and clutching his mum's hand while the latest doctor in a string of specialists said one ridiculous thing after another.

"Mrs. Snape—"

"Eileen."

"Eileen," the doctor conceded, looking slightly exasperated. "Gender abnormalities, such as the fixation on female—"

"There is nothing wrong with my son."

"I am not suggesting there is. I am merely trying to explain that when a child's aptitudes and interests deviate from accepted norms, those traits may suggest a conflict or confusion about gender."

Echoes of the words 'problem' and 'not normal' and 'requires treatment' flooded Severus' mind, blurring like red smears across the page of his life. What was so wrong with wanting to wear a skirt? Or enjoying the look and feel of women's clothes?

It was only when he was a woman that he felt safe.

For many years it had been Severus' tradition to buy himself a special gift for Christmas. He already owned several sets of silk undergarments and a few pairs of heels, each as meticulously selected as the next, but recently he'd begun to feel as though something was missing, something to tie it all together. He knew what that piece was, too – he'd been admiring it for months. But when that ceased to be enough for him, he knew he had to buy it. And that by doing so, knew it would mean he could no longer try to convince himself this was mere fancy. No, this was who he was, as real and inescapable as the heart that beat beneath his ribs.

He was nine and watching the girl who lived down the street, transfixed by the way her long red hair whipped about her shoulders as she ran through the park. He plucked at a lock of his own hair, then just above his ears, and vowed it was the last time he was ever going to let anyone cut it short.

And as Lily grew, so too did Severus' attachment. Oh, how he envied her. Even in something as pedestrian as a school uniform, her power was undeniable. Her magic was strong, yes, but her femininity was stronger – especially with men. She was the embodiment of beauty and Severus longed to emulate her; to have others look upon him that way.

Especially the men.

Gooseflesh spread across Severus' arms and skipped up his spine when he brushed two fingers against the fabric of his newest purchase: a woven red material, smooth to the touch, with a subtle sheen that picked up the soft light in the room. He lifted it from its tissued confines and took in his first full view of the dress: cap sleeves that opened to a high, square neckline, small bust and pleated waist, and below that, a fitted skirt that would sit just above the knee.

It was exquisite.

The color was even more beautiful than it had been in the catalog, though Severus knew from experience the pages of that Muggle rag rarely did his selections justice.

He was seventeen and having his first sexual encounter, with a man nearly ten years his senior. The grimy pub on the east side of town was far away from anyone Severus might know, its clientele a stream of anonymous regulars, its back room a haze of red lights, cigarette smoke and soft groans.

Somehow the man had known, had sensed in Severus what he could barely understand himself, and offered him a dress to wear. It wasn't a pretty thing, but the effect was immediate. Being feminized was such a different feeling than the vulnerability and terror he often felt as a man, and the power that coursed through him – at hiking the garment up over his thighs while the man dropped to his knees, sucking Severus' prick between thin lips – was heady.

In that moment, masculinity and femininity coalesced, blurred, combined.

Severus eased the dress onto a hanger and hung it before him. He stared at it as he removed his outer robe and draped it across a nearby chair. Then he unbuttoned and removed his waistcoat and undershirt, already feeling the subtle shift within him, the way his breathing changed: slower and more intentional, as though his lungs finally fit inside the slender frame of his body. Last, he removed his trousers, shorts and socks and then reached into the bottom drawer of the armoire – in the back, behind a false panel – to select his undergarments. Both were black with a subtle lace trim, and he slipped them on with a practiced hand. The panties were snug but not binding, the slippery fabric cradling his groin with just the right amount of pressure. He briefly lamented his lack of real cleavage, but as the bra included inserts to give his bust shape and texture, he supposed the effect was the same.

He was twenty-five and in his fifth year of teaching when he ordered his first item. He remembered the catalog he'd received by mail, with its glossy pages and ornate, red logo. For years afterwards, he'd claim the Muggle establishment hadn't received word of his mother's passing, for he continued to receive it every three months, the label still addressed to Eileen Snape.

The desire for beautiful garments quickly bled to his regular wardrobe, too, and he was never more glad of the fact that the Wizarding world had scarcely emerged from the Victorian era in terms of fashion. It allowed him to cultivate a look that suited both his inner and outer worlds, and as such, he rarely deviated from it: a linen, high-collared shirt, brocade waistcoat, woven trousers and floor-length, flared robes. But even more than that, it was the boots: the small blocky heel, the gracefully tapered toe, the laces that could be tightened from toe to shin, holding him tight, secure, safe.

Severus' heart rate slowed as he slipped his feet inside a pair of familiar, form-fitting heels. He relished the way each slender foot was held, enveloped and confined inside the sloping arc of a woman's shoe. He brushed at the black leather with his hand, restoring its luster, and then stood, adding three inches to his already tall stature.

Turning back to where the dress hung before him, Severus admired it one last time before removing it from the hanger. It was only after unzipping the back of it that he realized he'd been holding his breath the entire time.

Stepping into it, he pulled it slowly up his body, taking pleasure in the way it skimmed the surface of his skin, sliding against the hairs on his thighs, arms and chest. He eased it up around his bra and onto his shoulders, then reached behind himself and zipped up the back. With a deep breath, he turned towards the mirror.

That's when he understood, as though some long-lost piece of himself had finally settled back into place. Wearing someone else's dress had offered him glimpses of what he wanted to access, but ultimately it was just a generic garment enabling a generic experience. Wearing this dress, however – his dress, one that had been tailored to his exact specifications – felt right in a way he'd never known before. This was who he was: the precise cut, the subtle detail, the vivid color, the sensual fabric. It was beautiful, and he felt beautiful wearing it.

Beautiful and powerful.

Shifting his weight, Severus bent one knee and slid a hand to his hip, admiring himself in the mirror. He liked the way his reflection commanded attention; he looked the epitome of authority and sophistication, and he longed to wield this form in public. Of course, to do so properly would mean using a depilatory charm to remove all of his body hair (among other finishing touches), but he abstained, for he didn't know how he would explain that to Harry.

Harry.

At forty-one, Severus was navigating a relationship with the Savior of the Wizarding world. A Savior who didn't know his partner of three years had a Christmas tradition and a closet full of shimmery undergarments and high-heeled shoes.

And now, an elegant, red sheath dress.

At times, Severus felt guilty he'd kept this from the one person he most wanted to trust implicitly, his embarrassment and shame growing tenfold with each passing month, but he could not bear the possibility of it sending his young lover away.

He needed Harry; needed his earnestness and easy laugh and perfect arse and open heart. He needed these things because without them, what hope did he have of learning to be all that he was, of embracing duality in the same effortless way Harry did?

Severus admired all of him equally: the strong, stubbled jaw; the robust athleticism; the delicate cheekbones; the long, luxurious lashes. The way Harry accessed both the power and beauty of himself, the masculine and the feminine, the crusader and the nurturer. He expressed all that he was and honored the same in others. He gave of himself generously. He cultivated intimacy and connection. And he protected those he loved (sometimes even from themselves), while accepting – even craving – the same in return.

Harry was his ideal.

Harry was also staring at him from the doorway to their bedroom, his hand still on the knob of the door, his mouth wide open.

SSHP-SSHP-SSHP

For a long, drawn-out moment, Harry thought he'd walked into the wrong bedroom. He had Apparated directly into the house, so technically it was possible, yet the details were all familiar: the same mahogany four-poster, the same blue-gray duvet, the same scrubby, upholstered chair that Harry'd fallen in love with at that estate sale the year before. In fact, there was only one detail that stood out: the woman standing in front of the floor-length mirror – a woman with Severus' face.

Confusion and shock warred with the fastest mental inventory Harry'd ever taken of the spells and potions that could change one's gender. Had there been an accident? Had someone hexed his partner? Or perhaps someone else's Polyjuice experiment that had gone awry? The house was heavily warded, so the hexing didn't seem likely. And Severus was not the type to create or ingest something for which he didn't have the most intimate knowledge, so that left…

Harry felt around for the wand in his cloak and pressed a hand against it, just in case.

"Severus, is… is that you?" he asked, searching the face and body for clues. He'd hoped to hear that deep, baritone voice confirming it was his partner, but when no answer was forthcoming, Harry's heart began to race. Whoever it was seemed intent on looking at anything but him, though, their gaze far off to the side, judging by what Harry could see of it in the mirror.

"Severus?" he tried again.

"Go away," came the response. Despite the distaste that underscored those words, relief flooded Harry – it was Severus. Polyjuice might be able to mimic an appearance down to the tiniest freckle, but it could not change a voice.

Harry moved further into the room, close to Severus. "What are you—why are you wearing a dress?" he asked. When again there was no answer, Harry put a hand to Severus' forearm. The bare skin was cool to the touch. "Is this a… kink thing?"

Severus jerked his arm out of Harry's grasp and took a step back. "Do not mock me!"

"What? I'm not! Severus, I was just—"

"Get out! Just – get out."

But Harry couldn't compel himself to move, much less leave. He knew Severus' bluster tended to be an act, a way of protecting against unwanted feelings. He also knew that this – whatever it was – wasn't going to go away simply because he removed himself from the room. His lover would still be inside it, dressed as a woman. Harry had clearly walked in on something, and he wanted to understand what it was.

"Did you not hear what I said?"

The question startled Harry back to the man before him. He expected Severus' body language to be defensive, but instead, he was just curling in on himself, as if he wanted to disappear, and it did little to calm the worry that had been gnawing at Harry ever since he'd stepped foot in the bedroom. He continued to look his fill, letting his eyes trail the back neckline of the dress and the way it framed Severus' shoulders and fine, black hair. He almost reached out to touch Severus, but decided now was not the time. This was a precarious situation he'd found himself in, and how he chose to proceed would likely decide a great many things.

"Get out," Severus repeated, but Harry stood his ground.

"No."

Severus turned to face him this time, though what came out was not what Harry was expecting.

"How can you possibly be okay with this?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I am standing here in a dress, Potter. Why doesn't that bother you?"

Harry hated hearing that sort of pain and confusion in Severus' voice. "Because I love you," he said. "All of you. I'll be honest and say I don't understand this – not yet – but I'd like to, if you'll let me. If you'll share it with me."

"Share it with you?" Severus scoffed. "You've already gone and shared it with yourself, barging in here like this!"

"I'm sorry," Harry said, and he was, despite all the questions crowding his brain. "I didn't even realize you were home."

"Yes, why are you here? You were supposed to be out with your friends."

Only Severus could say the word 'friends' like it was an accusation, but Harry decided that was not a battle he wanted to have right now – it was likely just the hurt talking, anyway.

"I was, but after I got there, Hermione got called away for work, so we just decided to reschedule."

"Always so fucking agreeable, you are," Severus spat, though Harry wasn't sure what he was referring to exactly – not until he continued. "This should bother you! I'm a…" But whatever Severus had been about to say died on his tongue. Instead, he turned away and closed his eyes, something like anguish pinching the angular planes of his face. He crossed one arm in front of his body and clutched at the fabric near his hip. It was clear he wanted to hide but realized the futility of that while standing in the middle of their bedroom in a dress and high heels.

Harry's heart ached for Severus. It hurt him to see his lover like this – not the dress, though he still wanted to find out what that was about. No, it was the expression, that look of self-loathing Harry had become so familiar with all the times Severus had lashed out at him, demanding to know what Harry could possibly see in him, and all the times Harry had patiently shown him.

He felt the urge to do that here, too, but stopped short. This wasn't like their other arguments, and he wasn't sure if his usual comfort would be welcome, especially since he didn't even understand what this was about yet. It didn't seem to be about role-playing, or a fetish, which he thought should be a good thing except that none of the reasons left were likely to bode well for him. He moved to sit on the edge of the bed and grappled with where to start.

"I take it this isn't the first time you've done this."

A sudden tension filled the room, echoed in Severus' posture. "No," he answered eventually.

"How long?" Harry's voice sounded small even to his own ears.

"Thirty-six years."

Harry sucked in a breath, his eyes wide. That same sense of disorientation lanced through him again, just as it had when he'd first arrived. "Wow. So this definitely pre-dates me."

"I should think so, given my earliest memory of it occurred when I was five. Why should it matter to you when it started?"

It was obvious to Harry that Severus was still fighting – himself, his discomfort, the situation, all of it – and Harry himself felt he was rapidly going to be out of his element for this. He took a deep breath and looked down at the duvet, tracing his finger in circles along its surface. Why did it matter? It's not like the man wasn't entitled to his personal secrets. Harry was sure there were lots of things he didn't know about Severus' life yet – maybe some he'd never know. But this… this was different. This could affect both of them, or at the very least, their relationship. If they'd even still have one after this.

The thought of that twisted the nerves in the pit of Harry's stomach. It felt like Severus was drifting away and would soon be out of reach, like he was entering a world Harry didn't understand, and couldn't access even if he did. He swallowed into a dry throat, steeling himself for what he feared would come.

"Does this mean… do you want to be a woman?"

Severus sighed, though it seemed directed at himself. "No. I would have undergone the transformation long ago if that had been my aim."

"Oh." Harry let out the breath he'd been holding, relief loosening the chokehold around his heart. "Then… why?"

"I am not sure I have an answer that will satisfy you."

"Is it a sexual thing?"

"It can be."

"Is it for you?"

Severus turned back to his reflection in the mirror, his eyes raking up and down his form. He jutted his chin out. "Not precisely."

Harry's brows knit together. "Then what is it? I thought that's what cross-dressing was about."

"I did indicate there would not be a tidy answer, did I not?"

Harry felt more than heard the edge return to Severus' voice, that thin line between fight and flight he often walked whenever attempting to coax the man's emotions to the surface. He searched for another way to help Severus explain.

"Well, what do you get by doing this?" he asked gently. "Does it help you somehow?"

Harry knew he'd asked the right question when the tension began to unwind in Severus' shoulders.

"I am afraid that would be equally difficult to explain."

Harry reached out and laced his fingers through Severus'. "Try me."

Severus looked down where their hands were joined and clenched his jaw, something he often did whenever he was trying to stave off a surge of emotion. He closed his eyes briefly, then looked away.

"I did not have a… warm relationship with my father, as you well know. At best, he was inaccessible and abusive, and that estrangement caused me to model my mother from an early age. That soon became identification with females in general, and shortly thereafter, emulation. It granted me a certain… safety."

"Safety? You mean from your father?" Harry sat up straighter.

"No. Had he known about this, I am sure he would have expressed his displeasure with both myself and my mother." The crease between Severus' brows deepened and then relaxed slightly. "The safety was in expressing my… softer facets. I envied women and wished to be looked upon with the same sort of social grace; to be regarded as beautiful."

Suddenly, several things clicked together in Harry's mind: conversations they'd had about sexuality, memories he'd seen from Severus' childhood and time at school, behaviors he'd observed in his partner over the last few years – all of which had seemed unrelated until now. It was like someone had just handed him the key to the puzzle that was Severus Snape.

Harry got up off the bed and moved close to Severus again. "You don't have to wear a dress for me to think you're beautiful."

One of Severus' feet turned in slightly and he looked down at his shoes. "In case you hadn't realized, I didn't intend to wear this for you. I thought you were out for the afternoon."

Harry frowned, remembering that detail. "So if I hadn't walked in on you, would you ever have told me?"

Severus closed his eyes for a moment, an echo of the shame he'd exhibited earlier. "I am not sure. This is not a dominant part of my life, it is merely an outlet I find I need on occasion. I learned early on that society has great difficulty accepting behavior outside traditional gender norms; as such, I am accustomed to hiding this from view. The secrecy was partially habit, and partially—" He stopped, as though unable to give voice to the other reason now that their conversation had brought him to this point.

"Necessity," Harry supplied, suddenly understanding. "You thought if I saw this part of you, I'd leave."

"Yes," Severus agreed, though his voice was quieter than Harry had ever heard it. "It was not a risk I was prepared to take."

Harry pulled Severus against him, nestling in close and holding on tight. He smiled when he felt two lips press against the top of his head. Harry pulled back to look up at Severus, but found he was already speaking.

"I apologize for not telling you sooner. I—"

Harry placed a finger over Severus' mouth and shook his head. The two looked at each other for a long while and Harry watched as a myriad of emotions skittered across that dark gaze. At the same time, he became increasingly aware of the shape and texture of Severus' breasts – or whatever passed for them – while pressed up against the man's chest. They were soft, and had enough give in them to feel fairly realistic. Not that Harry was any great judge of that, but he'd felt a girl once or twice before. He was suddenly struck with the urge to explore more of Severus in this form.

"Would you mind—can I feel you?" Harry asked quietly, sliding his arms back around Severus' waist. Severus tensed at the contact, as though suddenly reminded he was still wearing a dress and therefore open to scrutiny again. He looked resigned, but nodded.

Harry stepped back, drawing his hands up Severus' bare arms, then smoothed them down the front of the dress, moving slowly so he could commit every detail to his senses: the ridges and contours of Severus' bra (and the breasts inside), the pleats circling the fitted waist, the way the material skimmed his bony hips, shadowed the shape and location of his groin, and hugged the outline of narrow thighs. If Harry closed his eyes, he would not have even known the garment was a dress. It was just Severus. And he wore the look so well that Harry couldn't help feeling there was a certain rightness to it, though he didn't know why that should be.

"Lovely," Harry murmured, and was pleased to see his assessment put a slight flush on Severus' cheeks. "It suits you," he added with a small smile.

The guarded and sometimes severe expression Severus had worn throughout their conversation softened then, relief evident in the way the lines around his eyes and forehead smoothed out. Harry leaned up on his tip-toes and put his arms around Severus' neck. It was a height differential he wasn't used to, but he found he quite liked it.

"So… where do we go from here?" he asked.

Severus' eyes began mapping Harry's face, as though memorizing it again for the first or fifth or three-hundredth time. Feeling pinned by that gaze, Harry felt a rush of warmth replace his earlier unease.

"Since your afternoon plans were thwarted, I rather thought I might make dinner for you," Severus said, then paused. "If you are amenable."

Harry's smile widened at that, for he also heard what Severus didn't say. It made him wonder how much he'd be permitted to acquaint himself with this new side of Severus. It had already begun to stir something within him – though whether that was because of the dress, or because of Severus, or because of Severus in the dress, he didn't know. Maybe it didn't matter.

"That depends," Harry said, watching as something tightened in Severus' face. "Will there be dessert later?"

Whatever it was that had begun to transpire in Severus' mind, upon first hearing Harry's response, seemed to have left him all at once. Wariness gave way to bewilderment, then cautious optimism, then finally reckoning. But even without that confirmation, Harry supposed the heat igniting behind Severus' eyes would have been answer enough.