BACKBONE

This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling who created and, with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and settings elaborated herein.

A/N: Spoilers, continues the Pensieve incident from OOTP

Dangling upside-down and wandless, with that git Potter threatening to strip his underwear in front of a crowd of snickering onlookers, Severus Snape had only one weapon left. Time to use it then.

He only hoped his voice would work and not embarrass him more by turning into a squeak or, worse, not letting him get out a word. His throat was rough and sore from the pink soapy water of Potter's Scourgify hex a few moments earlier. He took a deep breath and sneered.

"Why Potter." His voice was raspy; all the better. "I had no idea you were interested. Your little friends not satisfying you anymore?"

Potter's face was flushing with anger and Black's fists and teeth were clenched but they were both too taken aback to move. Good.

No danger from the other two murdering Marauders either: Pettigrew was shrinking away as usual and Loopy Lupin was bent even closer over his book, biting his lip. Still pretending not to notice. Some useless Prefect he was! He never let himself notice anything like this.

Never mind. At least there'd be time for a few more choice words. He knew just what to say.

"So now you're going to strip me bare and have your wicked way with me." His voice dripped sarcasm. He was proud that it didn't tremble even slightly at the disgusting mental images. "In front of an audience? You always were a show-off."

A wave of titters rose from the group by the lake. That had cut too close to the bone. Hunh, Potter would remember being laughed at, just as he himself would remember how they'd watched without protest. Oh yes, he'd remember.

Unfortunately Black recovered from his stupor then and cast a Silencio.

Severus could speak no more. He clenched his teeth, eyes glaring at his tormentors. Nothing he could do to stop them now but at least he could keep up a defiant front. And stay focused. It was tempting to glance at the onlookers and make a mental list for future payback but more important to watch his attackers. That extra moment of knowing what was coming might be the difference between saving some shred of dignity and suffering total humiliation.

Potter's arrogant smirk had snapped back into place but his flush had died away into pallor. So he'd been shaken. Perhaps he'd opt for distraction rather than continued confrontation, even though Severus was completely at his mercy now. Severus held his breath as he waited.

Sure enough, he did.

"Looks like you're long overdue for a bath, Snivellus," the git mocked, waving his wand towards the lake, which was full of Grindylows and mermen, not to mention the irritable Giant Squid.

Severus whirled up through the air and hung suspended over the very middle for a few seconds. As he fell, kersplash, into the deep icy water, his mingled rage fear and shame was tinged with a hint of satisfaction. Even Loopy couldn't ignore an attempt to drown him. He'd have to pull rank now and end the show.

Severus almost wished that Evans girl had hung around to be shown he didn't need her help. And to watch Potter squirm. But there really hadn't been much choice other than to insult her into leaving. Better hatred than pity any day.

Severus floundered, coughing and spluttering each time he surfaced. He was too intent on keeping his lungs filled with air to be even dimly aware now that Lupin had stood up and was saying something to his friends. The prefect hung back as the other three left and magicked Severus out of the lake, his pale eyes apologetic.

Severus glared at him and mouthed, "Grow a backbone!" before erupting into a silent coughing fit that ended with puking his guts out. Lupin fingered his wand, eyes flickering from the soaked shivering boy on the ground to the backs of his retreating friends. He started after them, turned and muttered a quick "Finite" from a safe distance, then hurried on.

Severus heaved himself upright, keeping a wary eye in case they should return to hex him again, and stumbled over to his wand. His waterlogged robes clung and tangled around his spindly legs. He muttered drying and warming spells as he watched the knot of bystanders gather up bags and books and straggle away out of hexing distance.

They weren't quite out of reach yet. He could wipe the whole thing out of their minds. They'd forget how he'd been shamed but they'd also forget his jibes at Potter. He considered and jerked a decisive nod.

So be it then. At least Potter wouldn't know they'd forgotten. And if he made the hex a little too strong? Well there was another exam that day; it would take care of his revenge.

"Obliviate!"

A/N: Why was this Snape's worst memory, worse than the Shrieking Shack, Death Eater incidents, post-war trials, etc? I've chosen to assume that the very public nature of the humiliation was the reason. It may not have been the worst thing he ever experienced but it was the one he least wanted Harry to see. Difficult to intimidate someone who's seen you like this.