I have a friend, he's mostly made of pain.
He wakes up, drives to work, and then straight back home again.
He once cut one of my nightmares out of paper.
I thought it was beautiful, I put it on a record cover.
And I tried to tell him he had a sense
of color and composition so magnificent.
And he said "Thank you, please but your flattery
is truly not becoming me.
Your eyes are poor. You are blind. You see,
no beauty could have come from me.
I am a waste of breath, of space, of time."

~ "Waste of Paint," Bright Eyes

Snape dug his bitten-down nails into the train seat, sweating profusely as his dreams swallowed him in their swarthy oblivion.

Fists struck him, scraping skin off his face with their bony knuckles. Words slashed like knives, beat him as much as the hands. Knives stuck between his ribs, slipping through his skin so easily with their searing pain.

Severus tried to writhe away from the agony, cries drawn from his lips, but nothing could stop the hurt. The nightmare had swallowed him completely.

Out of the black void rose a ghostly face robed in its long white beard. Snape felt a fire engulf his heart completely, licking flames of pain.

"Severus," Dumbledore rasped, extending a skeletal, withered hand. "Your soul, Severus. Your soul."

"What of my soul?" Severus gasped through the agony, clutching at his wounds and feeling hot blood gushing over his hands.

"Your soul. Your soul. Your soul…"

Suddenly the sound of tiny pincers infected the air, the noise of millions of tiny feet.

A wave of red ants engulfed Snape, crawling over his skin. Biting and pinching, they entered every orifice, sliced into his flesh. Hypodermic needle stings tore deep into him. Snape swatted and yelled as he was eaten, ants wriggling between rivers of blood flowing from his body. They creeped into his nostrils, forced open his mouth, snuck into his ears…

Forcing out one last breath, Snape cried out with all the air and agony in his lungs:

"My soul!"

A hand shook Severus awake. Rapping his head against the luggage rack as he sat up rapidly, he yelped and snapped his eyes open. The professor carriage of the train around him was calm as it rattled out of the Chunnel and into the light of France.

Professors Flitwick, Sprout, and Slughorn sat around Snape, eyeing him curiously. Smoothing down the light blue shirt and tan slacks he had donned for the class trip to Paris, the Slytherin professor looked about, feeling cold sweat on his forehead. "W-what is it?" he asked.

"You were…yelling in your dreams, Severus," Slughorn explained, knitting his white brow. "Are you alright?"

"Fine, Horace," Snape muttered, nodding acknowledgement at the kindly professor.

"Anything I can get for you?" Pomona Sprout questioned. "Perhaps I could brew you a calming tea of some sort?"

"No…but thank you," Severus replied, standing up and running his fingers through his long, ink-black hair. "It's only this stupid Muggle transportation system. I just need…a little fresh air. That's all." Walking out of the carriage and shutting the door behind him, Severus leaned against the railing between the carts, balancing on the rattling iron link.

His lips itched for a cigarette between them, but he had none of those things on him. Smoking was a habit Snape had relapsed into after the end of the Wizarding War, after his encounter with death.

Brushing a hand over his neck, Severus felt the two puncture wound scars where Nagini had bitten him at the command of Voldemort in the boat house. Luckily, Severus had managed to hang on to life until Harry Potter's golden trio arrived and saved him. He faded in and out of consciousness, but he recalled a hand resting on him, sweet words whispered, and new flesh covering his wounds.

They had saved his life.

Severus had to do a lot of work to return to Hogwarts. The bravery he had exhibited protecting Harry was justified, and though he was responsible for Dumbledore's death – which caused much upset from the students – Snape won his way back into the hearts of all the professors with a humble and quiet attitude. McGonagall was trying to warm up to him, but she explained she couldn't even sit in the same carriage as him on the train for the trip.

Snape exhaled. He still had work to do.

Obsidian-black eyes flickering up, Snape gazed through the glass window of the student carriage. Hogwarts students dressed in street clothes of jeans and hoodies, shorts and T-shirts, chatted in their seats, eager to arrive in Paris soon.

Suddenly, he saw her.

Checking each student with a nod of her head and signature smile, Hermione Granger walked down the aisle of the carriage, clutching an organized clipboard to her breast. Her hair was tied back in a neat ponytail, a bushel of auburn curls fashioned tightly together. She wore an attractive pinstriped business suit tailored to her every curve. She looked extremely professional.

Strangely, Severus felt a teasing tug in his lower torso. Hermione looked delectable.

But what on earth was she doing here on the Hogwarts class trip? She should've been long gone from the school after the Second Wizarding War.

Shaking his head, Snape tried to ignore this feeling and stumbled back into the professor carriage, straightening his tie as he went. He was about to inquire as to why the just-graduated Granger was on the trip to Paris with them when he noticed Professor McGonagall standing before Sprout, Flitwick, and Slughorn.

The older lady, dressed in black dress pants and a cardigan made of her signature olive crushed-velvet, snapped her eyes on Severus. "Hello, Professor. Nice of you to join us," she quipped tartly. "I'd thought you'd thrown yourself off the train. It would certainly be an improvement for our morale."

Swallowing that remark with his pride, Snape fiddled with his tie. "I apologize, Minerva. But I am here now, and I am ready to escort the children as you see fit."

"Well now, you're being useful. We'll all take our bags off the train and divide the students into four groups to be led by myself, Slughorn, Sprout, and Flitwick."

"What about…me?" Severus murmured.

"You are to be with my group. You will serve as an extra teacher."

Snape nodded at this even though he wilted inside. She didn't even trust him enough to let him usher a group of Hogwarts students around Paris.

Gathering their bags, they filed out of the train. Slughorn gave Snape a sympathetic look as the Slytherin professor fumbled with his one case of luggage. Horace remembered years back when Snape was a student at Hogwarts, with his head kept low for all the bullying he endured.

Slughorn recalled the lost and fragile look of love Severus held in his eyes whenever he saw Lily Evans. He remembered how it was dashed when she died. Now all that dwelt in Snape's eyes was a black void so deep and cruel no light could survive it.

"Severus?" Slughorn said, putting a meaty hand on the professor's shoulder. Snape turned, surprised at the touch.

"Yes, Horace?"

"I want you to know that we're still here for you. Pomona and Filius and I. Especially me. Minerva will warm up to you eventually. If you need anything, my door will always be open. I know life has been…hard for you lately."

Severus looked at the ground, unsure of how to reply to such kind words. "Thank you. I…will come to you if I need to talk. Thank you for offering. But now I need to go to Minerva. I need to show her that…I'm still worthy. Or at least I'm trying to be."

Severus turned away from Horace and stepped out of the carriage, leaving a pity-filled eyed professor behind. Slughorn wished some angel could descend and fill Snape's eyes with happiness for once in his sorrow-filled life.

But then, my knees give under me.
My head feels weak and suddenly
it's clear to see that it's not them but me,
who has lost my self-identity.
As I hide behind these books I read,
while scribbling my poetry,
like art could save a wretch like me,
with some ideal ideology
that no one can hope to achieve.
And I am never real; it is just a sketch of me.
And everything I made is trite and cheap
and a waste of paint, of tape, of time.

"Waste of Paint," Bright Eyes

Hermione grinned as she emerged into the fresh air of France. Every breath was crisp and clean, just how she liked it. Pulling her rolling luggage behind her as she strutted out onto the street with other students, Hermione was too distracted by the lovely sights of the new city that she barely noticed the professor walking in front of her…

"Oof!"

Stumbling backwards, Hermione gaped and looked up to see the tall, slender figure of Severus Snape looking at her. Dazed, he caught her wrist so she wouldn't fall.

Breath caught at her lips. Hermione did not expect to see him here at all.

"Miss Granger…" Snape sputtered.

"I apologize, Professor," Hermione cut. "I…wasn't looking where I was going." A note of bitterness laced her quick, clipped voice. Snape, the man who had killed Albus Dumbledore, was not to be greeted too cordially by Hermione. Still, the appearance of her teacher seemed to make her heart skip a beat.

"What are you doing here?"

"Oh." Hermione tucked a strand of loose hair behind her ear curtly. "I went back to Hogwarts to take my N.E.W.T.s and finish up my last year. Recently, the Ministry of Magic hired me – Mr. Shacklebolt recommended me – and I am currently fighting for house elf rights. Professor McGonagall urged that I come along on this Paris trip with the students as an aide. I recently learned some French and know the area fairly well so…here I am."

"Well, your knowledge would certainly be appreciated by the children."

Hermione looked away so Snape wouldn't see the blush rise on her cheeks. "Thank you, Professor. I guess my question for you now is…why are you here?"

"Ah..." Snape began, scratching the back of his neck. "Minerva rehired me. I've been trying to get my job back as a semi-decent professor at Hogwarts. I guess she rehired me because I don't really have anywhere else to go."

"Professor!"

Hermione and Snape turned to see McGonagall, who looked like an utterly frustrated hen at this point. "Will you two please stop chattering for one minute and help me with the students? I believe that is your job, Professor Snape, even if Miss Granger graciously agreed to help me with the trip."

Flushing, Severus nodded to Hermione and went straight to Minerva. Raising a golden-brown eyebrow, the young lady clutched her clipboard closer and her chest. Despite her coldness to the tall, dark, and Slytherin professor, she recalled younger days when he would teach.

Secretly Hermione had harbored a crush for Snape starting around her fifth year. But who could she tell about her infatuation? Everyone else thought him slimy and depressing, straight as a board with strict rules and embarrassing, barbed remarks. But the studious Hermione found this challenging and exciting, and whenever she still stung from Ron's daftness towards her or Draco's cruel remarks, she sought out Snape's class as a rest, a haven for a moment. Most of all Hermione admired the way his brow creased and uncreased when he was thinking in those quiet moments when everyone was taking their tests. It was as if she could see Snape's entire thought process. Hermione cherished the moments when his hardness faded, and she could see the smoothness of his chiseled features like they were once happy. She had wanted so badly to see him happy.

Brushing this thought out of her mind, Hermione tugged at her rolling luggage bag and followed the pack of students. How could she think sentimental things about the man who killed the headmaster? It was shameful. Wrong.

Hermione told herself to stop it at once and tugged a curtain over her features, one of sternness and strength, and shouldered on.