Chapter 14: Function? To inspire SAINT, of course!

Blaise Zabini

Hogwarts, Great Britain

Club Day, or really, Club Weekend, began right after lunch. All things considered, it wasn't too dissimilar to what I remembered as a university librarian. Most of the older students were focused on catching up with their friends or enjoying their hobbies. That was what clubs were for after all. There wasn't some all-consuming rush to "claim the fresh blood" or whatever. This wasn't a shitty slice of life anime; the school wasn't going to disband a club if they didn't get any firsties this year.

It was, all in all, a relaxed event that reminded me of a festival, or at least as close to a festival as a school with such a low student population could have.

I leisurely took a walk around the first floor of the castle, enjoying the ambiance. This was what I imagined when I thought of a magical school, children using magic in creative ways to have fun, or just to fuck with each other, not dark lords and convoluted plots revolving around secret prophecies.

The rest of Slytherin house had scattered to the four winds. We were generally advised to stick together, but it wasn't as if the rest of Hogwarts took every chance to give us shit just for wearing green.

I decided that I'd tour the indoor clubs first before heading outside. Maybe I'd catch the broom race in an hour and a half; those were entertaining enough to watch even if I myself was a shit flyer.

"Hey, firstie, care for a game of wizard's chess?" I heard a senior call. He was a heavily freckled boy with dark skin that almost made said freckles invisible. If I had to guess, I'd peg him as a fourth year.

I was about to say no, chess didn't really hold my interest in my past life, but I saw a mop of red hair inside the classroom and I couldn't resist the chance to meet the youngest Weasley. What was he like now that he had a few years to mature outside of Hogwarts? How had Violet's existence changed him?

Would he be the same boy who was defined by his loyalty and jealousy in equal measure? Or would he be the Gryfindor version of Heath, pining after his house's golden girl? Hell, had Hermione being a boy in this life somehow made him gay?

I had my doubts on the last, but I truly didn't know. In this world, anything was possible. Curiosity got the best of me and I offered the older boy a friendly smile.

"You know what? I think I'll take you up on that," I said. "I know the rules but I'm not really an expert if that's okay."

"We all start somewhere, mate. Besides, I'm not either if I'm honest. I mean, I do alright in competitions, but you should see the real grandmasters out there."

"There are competitions for wizard's chess?"

"Of course there are. It's a competitive sport no different than dueling. Mind, I know it's nowhere near as popular, but it gets loads of support from the wealthy, traditional crowd. I know you Slytherins are big on culture and such," he said. I had to give it to him; he was a good salesman if nothing else.

"Smooth. If you play like you talk, I think I'll be in real trouble."

"Heh. Nah, mate. I need to watch the door and lure people in so how about you go inside? There are a few other club members who'll play with you."

"Thanks…"

"Oh, sorry. Patrick Hopkins."

"Zabini."

"Wait, the new seer?"

"Rumor's getting around, huh?"

"Huh. Go easy on them, yeah?"

"The Sight doesn't work that way," I lied as I walked inside.

I stood around and watched for a few minutes as Ron played against a fifth year. Both were good, though I had to admit I wasn't sure how good. It was akin to watching a figure skater. The tricks were nice, but I wasn't necessarily sure how a "great" skater differed from an "Olympic" counterpart.

When they finished, I slid into the seat opposite Ron. I watched with mild interest as the chess pieces stood up and rearranged themselves properly.

"Afternoon, Weasley," I greeted cordially. "Care for a game?"

"What are you doing here?" he asked, suspicious but not quite hostile.

"Well, Hopkins sold me on at least trying a game. I didn't want to play against someone who's been at this club for years so I waited for you to finish."

"What? Can't take losing?"

"I don't mind losing, but I don't think I'll learn much from someone so much better than me. You though… Well, let's see what you've got."

"Hmph. Who says I want to play with you?"

I smiled outwardly but let out a mental sigh. This was the same boy who told Harry every dark wizard came from Slytherin. Sure, the irony of him housing Pettigrew was funny, but his attitude at the moment was somewhat disappointing.

I knew who he could become. He was loyal and strong, a competent wizard in his own right. He was brave and passionate, though sometimes too ruled by his emotions. He could be ingenious when he was properly motivated and was capable of incredible kindness.

And yet… The Ron Weasley from the latter books was nowhere to be found. This one? This one had a great deal of growing up to do.

Perhaps I could nudge him along. It certainly wouldn't hurt to leave a decent impression.

I dug around in my pocket and withdrew a galleon. Ron was poor. Money was, unfortunately, one of the things he was extremely sensitive about at this stage of his life. I watched as his eyes tracked the coin and knew I had him.

"How about a bet?" I said, sliding the coin across the table. "You win and the galleon's yours."

"I don't need your charity."

"It's not charity. It's a contest. I want a good game and I'm willing to pay for it. That's fair, right?"

His greed warred with his dislike of Slytherins before he tapped the board, triggering a rune that started the game. "Fine, but I'm white."

"Done."

"White to E-4," he said, determined now that there was a prize and he'd decided to compete.

"Ooh, a bit of bloodlust," the pawn said, cackling madly.

"A grudge match? Count us in! You know, the white bishop on the left is a right tosser," another pawn, from my side of the board, shouted. "Let me at him!"

The pieces then descended into a squabbling mess. Somehow, they'd come to the conclusion that Ron and I were mortal enemies or something. That caught me off guard. I knew the pieces could speak sometimes, but I didn't think they were that responsive. Enchanting truly was a wonderful thing.

I didn't even think about it. I moved my own pawn to contest the center. Though even calling me a casual enjoyer of the game was being generous, I did know that whoever had the middle four squares had a big advantage in the game.

Only four moves later and I could feel myself being pressured. Ron didn't hesitate. He moved each piece within seconds like he knew every possible move I could make. He wasn't a chess prodigy like some fanfictions made him out to be, he'd lost to the fifth year by a significant margin, but he was most certainly better than a rank amateur like me. I was only down two pawns at the moment, but I had no doubt he'd widen the gap.

"I thought Slytherins were supposed to be cunning," he said with a satisfied smirk.

"Chess is a game, Weasley. Enjoy it."

"Oh, I'm enjoying clobbering you."

I frowned as my knight fell to his bishop. "Well, if you're going to be like that, then I suppose I'll get serious."

"Bring it," he said with a confident grin.

I smirked inwardly and flooded the board with my magic. The Sight worked best where there were fewer variables. It was why I couldn't see anything past five seconds or so without my crystal ball.

But then again, chess was a solved game. Moreover, I didn't need to predict every piece, just Ron's next piece. I was no grandmaster, but I wasn't an idiot either. I could finish drawing the picture when the dots were pointed out for me.

Was it petty as fuck to use the Sight to play a chess match? And for a single galleon at that?

Yes. But I never claimed to be a good person.

The game became far more even after that. Ron adapted, because he really was that much better than me, but I in turn predicted his movements. Before we knew it, half an hour had passed and we were each taking minutes to consider each move.

"Zabini? Ron?" we heard.

We turned to find we'd drawn a small crowd. It was Parvati who spoke. Judging by the look on her face, she was here because Padma dragged her to the club.

"Chirpy. Nerdy. Hello there," I said.

"Parvati. Par-va-ti. It's not hard to say," the more active sister huffed.

"Shh! We're playing," Ron cut in, going right back to thinking. How he ignored the commentary from the chess pieces yet thought this was disruptive, I didn't know.

"Blegh. I hope Zabini wins."

"What? You're a Gryfindor. Where's your house pride?"

"For a week, Weasley. We've been Gryfindors for a week. Lay off."

I sighed and moved a rook. He would move his in response and open up a path to his queen by mistake. I wondered if continuously playing chess via Sight like this would eventually teach me the ideal moves. It ought to condition me towards moves that succeed at least, right?

We played back and forth, trading pieces fairly evenly. I began to overtake him. When I noticed, I slowly stopped using the Sight. At first, I only looked ahead at every other move, and then every third move, and so on. It left the impression that Ron had grown accustomed to my playstyle and was making a slow but steady comeback.

Finally, with an exaggerated sigh, I tipped the black king over. I reached out a hand for him to shake. "Good game, Weasley."

He shook it with a much friendlier smile. "Not bad. I'm better of course, but you're not an amateur."

"We're all amateurs. Unless some of the club members get paid at competitions. Speaking of," I slid the galleon over. "You won so it's yours."

"Heh, thanks. Come back when you want to lose more money."

I snorted. Cheeky brat. "Hey now, I might win next time."

"As if."

As I stood, Padma dragged me over to the farthest table for a more isolated game. We wordlessly began playing, trading off an opening series of moves that looked remarkably like my previous game.

"You let him win," she said quietly.

"Now why would I ever do that? My money was on the line," I replied with a ghost of a smile.

"I don't know. You want him to like you for some reason? Or you want him to be overconfident. Or maybe you just want him to underestimate you in particular. But you were using your power. You wouldn't have lost if you didn't want to."

"And how do you know I was using the Sight?"

"Because you're tired. More than you should be. I know the Sight isn't something you can keep using forever."

"You're paying an awful lot of attention to me, Patil."

"And because you're playing like shite right now," she said. She took my rook with a cheeky smirk. Her eyes danced with mirth as she looked at me like a puzzle to be unraveled.

"So I am."

"So you lost on purpose."

"Clever girl. And they say ravens are all just book-smarts. You got me. I'm actually pretty terrible at chess," I admitted easily. "I just didn't want to embarrass myself too much."

"Then why bet a galleon on the match? You didn't need to bet."

"It was the only way to get Weasley to play with me."

"Because you're so fond of blokes, are you?"

I mimed a gagging motion. "Please don't say that. No shade on men who swing that way but I prefer women."

"So what's your game then?"

"Chess. We're playing it right now."

She shot me an unimpressed stare. "Don't be obtuse, Zabini."

"I feel attacked right now. Why do you think I have ulterior motives? Why can't I think Weasley is a good bloke and want to be his friend?"

"Really? You made me drug a professor," she hissed.

"Correction. I made you an accomplice while I drugged a professor," I said.

"Zabini." She didn't look all that happy with the semantics.

"Okay, fine. So I may have an idea. It really depends on a few things."

"Is your plan going to involve my sister?"

"Probably not."

"Does it have even the slightest chance of making life hard for her?"

I considered it. "How hard? Like 'I made you an accomplice in drugging our professor' hard or-"

"Yes," she growled. Then she let out a soft sigh before eating my bishop. "Look, I don't think you're a bad person, Zabini. I just… You weird me out and I'm not sure what to make of you."

"Yeah, that's fair. But for the record, I want Chirpy to be happy too."

"Good. Oh, and checkmate in three."

"Wha-Fuck, I hate this game."

"You know, I could also use a spare galleon…" she trailed off with a teasing grin.

"Dream on."

X

"I didn't take you for the artsy type," I told Daphne as we sat next to each other. In front of us were two easels, each with a canvas braced against the wood. A set of paints sat on each of our lefts, the three primary colors and black and white for shading.

"We all have our hobbies. Outdoor activities were risky for me," she said coolly. I understood: her family curse probably meant she was encouraged to seek less exciting pursuits. "I took a liking to painting and music. I'm surprised you're here, Zabini."

"What can I say? I figured I'd broaden my horizons. I'll visit all the clubs and decide what I like as I go."

"I hope you're more decisive about your ambitions than your hobbies. I don't like owing favors."

"Of course. Say, your family fortune is in potions correct?"

"Partially, yes. You have something you want."

"I do."

Daphne hummed in thought. "I am willing to provide you with a potion in the Hogwarts curriculum. Anything more advanced than that will require significantly more assistance on your part."

"That sounds reasonable," I smiled. "I have an idea, but not one I can enact right now. Once I've fleshed out the details, I'll come to you for what I need."

"Understood."

"Thank you, Greengrass. I mean it."

"It's just business," she said, as frosty as ever, but I spied the ghost of a smile as she turned back to the front of the classroom.

As more people filled the other easels, the president of the club, some sixth year from Ravenclaw, clapped her hands. "Hello! Can I have your attention? Hi, I'm Clara Warren and I am the president of the art club. We mostly do paintings in this class, and that's what we'll do today, but you may have noticed the lack of brushes. That's because you'll be painting… with your wands!

"Now, don't get me wrong, we do have brushes, but art is ultimately about the creative expression of your imagination. Rather than hold an introductory course on brush strokes or different shading techniques, I thought it'd be neat to teach you a new spell instead. The spell is called cogita pingere, or the brushwork charm. What it does is it takes the caster's thoughts and translates them onto the canvas, provided the paint's all there of course."

She demonstrated with a swish that turned into a slanted spiral. The paint floated into the air and began to spread itself, forming what turned out to be the Hogwarts Express, but with wings along its sides. There was even a set of train tracks made of clouds.

"So how does this differ from just levitating the paint?" someone asked.

"Good question. Cogita pingere is a very specialized spell which loosely means 'paint my thoughts.' It draws from the image you have in your mind, whereas if you were to levitate each cup of paint, you'd simply be right back to relying on your brushstrokes.

"Originally, this spell was devised by aurors to make obtaining witness testimony easier, I think muggle detectives have professional sketch artists who do something similar, but it fell out of common use in law enforcement because the caster can easily use the spell to mislead investigators. The president from four years ago introduced the spell as a neat way to let people who aren't very good at the mechanical aspects of painting to still express themselves. Does that answer your question?"

"Yeah, it does."

"Great. Remember, keep a clear image in your mind now. It can be anything at all. I'm going to go around and teach you all the spell if you're having trouble. If you're serious about painting and came here to do that, feel free to go grab some from the front of the class. It's okay to just have fun for today though," she said, waving to the teacher's desk where there were several cups filled with all manner of brushes.

It was a clever way to get students in the door. Most people had never painted before and would shy away from a blank canvas because they felt intimidated after all. By offering to teach them a new spell, and removing the possibility of them embarrassing themselves via shoddy technique, Clara had made a much more welcoming environment.

Question was, what did I want to paint?

My canvas remained blank even as Daphne sat down again, several brushes in her hand. I hadn't noticed her get up but it seemed by the unexpectedly eager look on her face that she really enjoyed painting.

"You're not going to paint?" she asked.

"I am, I'm just trying to decide what I want my first piece to be."

"Something from the future. Or perhaps the past. Warren did say the spell will paint anything on your mind."

"Are you trying to get a free prediction?" I asked with a wry smile. Still, I dug inside my bag and pulled out my trusty crystal ball.

"No, you're not that gullible. You'd just make something that I lack the frame of reference to understand. Can't a girl be cordial?"

"You're right. That does give me a good idea."

"Oh? Care to share?"

"Well, I had a funny dream the other day… I'm hoping my crystal ball will help me retrieve the memory."

The crystal began to fog up, though I had no intention of using it. It was good for appearances if nothing else. I placed one hand on the crystal ball and began to cast.

My paints rose into the air and began to form the background. It was important to work by layers after all, or something like that. I did paint a bit for fun in my old life, but the hobby had fallen to the wayside after graduating with my degree. Thankfully, it was a skill one never fully forgot, kind of like riding a bike.

The classroom fell into a comfortable quiet, interrupted only by the swishing of brush heads on canvas or the gentle whispers of Clara and the other art club members as they guided people through some impromptu lessons.

A while later, I had my piece. It was of a middle-aged, ginger man sitting at a desk. He was clearly a wizard, evident by his robes and wand, though he wasn't doing anything particularly magical. Rather, he looked like he was studying something intently.

On his desk was… a yellow, rubber duck.

"Is that supposed to be someone?" I heard Clara ask. "And is that a rubber duck?"

I shrugged guilelessly. I didn't really know why I chose this particular scene either. It was, of course, Arthur Weasley, technically "Lord" Weasley if I wanted to get on his nerves, pondering the great, muggle mystery that was the rubber duck.

I didn't actually know what he looked like. The movies were fresh in my mind thanks to the CYOA, but I'd already confirmed through Neville, Ron, and other, non-genderbent canon characters that the actors didn't look exactly like their magical counterparts. They were actors in the end, hardly the genuine article. Some of them were close, real close, but there were always subtle differences.

Or perhaps, the multiverse was vast and slight changes were to be expected. I didn't know. It didn't really matter.

It also wasn't as though this scene in particular came up in the films. The painting was an extrapolation from Arthur Weasley's question to Harry: "What exactly is the function of a rubber duck?"

"It is. I don't really know why I made this either. Maybe my crystal ball is broken," I joked.

"Looks like a Weasley. Maybe Lord Weasley?" Daphne said, looking over from her seat. "He works in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office."

"Could be. Or it could be any redhead. I did just get done playing a game with Weasley, Ronald, I mean, so maybe my mind latched onto that."

"And what does this mean?"

"Who knows? Sometimes, the rubber duck is… just a rubber duck."

Clara Warren nodded happily and began to take the painting off the easel. "It's well-done. Even with cogita pingere, the clear image shows you have a focused mind. Did you have a name for this piece?"

"Let's call it… 'To be a Toy,'" I said, shooting Clara a small, devious smile.

Clara looked a little unnerved by that. Did I mean Lord Weasley was my toy? Or perhaps the entire family? Or maybe I really was referring to the rubber duck? I could, of course, just be fucking with her. Seers were known for being rather quirky.

As Daphne said, she lacked the right frame of reference to understand, and it made me want to chuckle.

In the end, I decided to join the art club, if only so I could keep leaving ominous signs. I'd have to think of more "dreams" I could access in the future.

And, truth be told, I enjoyed painting. Beyond just being a troll, as was my self-appointed mission, there was a simple pleasure in the act of creating something new. I found myself looking forward to picking up this long-forgotten hobby of mine again. Perhaps next time, I'd even bother to refine my brushwork.

It was also nice that the club was highly informal. The classroom we used was well-stocked thanks to the help of alumni. Formal hours were Tuesday and Saturday afternoons but members could come and go as we liked or our schedules permitted and largely operated on the honor system. The only "officer" was Clara, whose main job was to organize the year-end gallery and restock the materials from a mail-order catalog. All told, it sounded like a wonderful way to kill some stress.

As for my first piece at Hogwarts, I left that with the art club. They held on to everything made by the club members and rented out a gallery in Diagon Alley towards the end of every school year. I looked forward to people visiting, just to try and figure out what the bloody fuck I meant by anything I did.

Author's Note

Ron's character is one that I loved to rag on but grew to appreciate as I grew older.

The movies did him a disservice by giving so many of his lines to Hermione, even if Emma is pretty great. The movies highlight his worst traits and overshadow his best. They've encouraged a lot of bashing and it's a shame because I always thought Ron's flaws made him very relatable.

Hermione comes off as an exposition machine, or even as JKR's favorite self-insert medium. Harry gets led around by the nose, a slave to forces beyond his control. Yes, I know both are gross oversimplifications of the characters, but my point is that of the three, Ron's the one who is most fleshed out and relatable to me.

I didn't used to think this way. When I was a teenager, I wanted to bang Emma and wished I was as perfect as chadbro-Harry in fanon. But now that I'm a bit older and I look back on all the dumb shit I said as a teenager that I wish I could take back, I find myself sympathizing with Ron.

Yes, I know that's not how Latin works. No, I don't care. If JKR is allowed to butcher Latin, so am I.

Thank you for giving me the art club idea. You know who you are.

Also, I promised a Spoon marathon so look forward to it.

Thank you to all of my patrons. As many of you know, I update one of my stories once every weekend publicly. However, I update much more frequently on Pat-re-on, usually 8-10 chapters a month spread across various stories. That means the number of chapters available on Pat-re-on is always growing. As of now, this is how far along each story is:

- ACL & Bunny Quests: Same as public
- A Life Worth Living: 2
- Apocalypse: 1.14
- The Holy Grill: 2.6.5
- Homeless Bunny: 24
- Legendary Tinker: 8.6
- Plan? What Plan?: 4.13.5
- When is a Spoon a Sword?: 4.12
- Troll in the Dungeon!: 21
- Let There be War: 9 (Complete)

Total Chapter Difference (Pat-re-on - Public): 33