"As your team captain, I am disgusted that you got caught."
Loki looked bored as the younger boy lectured him. Team captain or not, Tony Stark was still beneath him.
"Rogers asked Rhodey to tell me to tell you to stop cheating. All I'm asking is that you get better at it. You stop being an asset to the team, you're off it."
Loki began a retort to that, but Stark spoke over him.
"And don't start with who your father is, Odinson, or I might have to remind you who I am. The Minister of Magic may have influence here but it's nothing compared to what it means to be the genius behind Stark Spellworks."
"Well, I'd like to think that some wizards still respect tradition," Loki said. "I don't know what people see in the spawn of a muggle-born witch and a wizard who turned the most tried and true spells on their heads."
"Did I mention my parents?" Tony growled, eyes darkening. "No, I'm the one you have to worry about. The one who's a master of enchantments, invented the magical multitool, revolutionized broomstick technology. Go ahead, ask Professor Lensherr who he'd rather have on the Slytherin Quidditch team, you or me. But remember to tell him that if I go, I'm taking my brooms with me."
Loki laughed and shook his head, holding up his Firebolt 480. "Stark brooms aren't the best in the world. How do you like to put it? They've still got a few kinks to work out. Besides, all a Quidditch team really needs is a sharp-eyed Seeker on a fast broom. And that is me." Loki leaned forward, smiling. "So I might just take you up on that challenge."
Tony sighed in aggravation. "This is a waste of time. Look, do you enjoy getting caught cheating?"
"So next time do better," Tony said, turning away from the taller fifth year. Great Salazar's ghost, these pissing matches were exhausting. Tony needed the refuge of his workshop.
He strolled down the passage he'd found in his third year. It had been collapsed then, but he'd excavated and reinforced it. He entered the rooms he rented for his private experiments, set down his bag, and clapped his hands. "All right! What are we working on today? Jarvey?"
A large ferret-like creature crawled out of his bag and scrambled across the worktable. "The stabilizing charms on the broomsticks could use some work, sir," the creature spoke. "You may also want to look at building a new wand casing. The more you use the enhanced core, the faster the wood disintegrates, and you have been rather busy recently."
He got completely lost in the wand design, and it was hours later when he looked up to find a small black owl alighting on his worktable.
"What are you doing in here, Dummy? I don't need a mail carrier, I need an extra hand, or possibly a third superintelligent brain. Never could reproduce whatever I did to Jarvey, though."
"I rather enjoy being one-of-a-kind," the enchanted rodent offered. "In any case, it looks as though Dummy already has a letter."
"Ha! You're right. Who's been using my owls without asking?" Tony untied the letter from Dummy's leg and opened it.
It was from Pepper.
The bookish Hufflepuff had taken a liking to him, spirits only knew why. Well, he was Tony Stark, of course, but this wasn't the usual hero worship. She actually seemed to take an interest in what he did and not just who he was.
Something tells me this will find you off school grounds without permission. I won't expect you at chess club, or dinner for that matter, but please do eat, and if you get a chance, remember to do your astronomy essay. I suspect you'll just get Jarvey to write it, but if you do, please don't tell me about it. It hurts my soul. Yours, Pepper Potts.
They had met second year, in the chess club that Pepper had organized. Tony supposed he could see why she spent so much effort socializing with people from other houses - the other Hufflepuff girls of their year, Janet Van Dyne and Darcy Lewis, were "certainly very friendly," as Pepper once put it diplomatically, but they were annoying in the extreme and were rarely seen without each other, except when Janet was on the Quidditch pitch. And they certainly didn't have the patience for wizard's chess.
Tony looked at the letter, looked at his work, and looked at Dummy. He went to the shelves and dug out some owl treats, as well as a stick of Wonka gum to chew as he worked. As far as he was concerned, the stuff was one of the greatest magical inventions that wasn't his.
He gave Dummy the treats, then wrote on the back of the letter: Chess, tomorrow, I promise. I'll handicap myself two pieces, your choice.
He sealed the letter, tied it back on to Dummy's leg, then ruffed up the feathers on the little black owl's head as he said, "Take that back to Pepper and give her a kiss for me, will you? You know she hates that."
Tony smiled to himself and went back to the complex business of wandmaking.
He and Pepper had their promised chess game the next day over lunch. The Hufflepuffs certainly weren't going to argue with having the fabulous Tony Stark sit at their table, and although the other Slytherins glared in their direction, they would never actually say anything against the teenaged billionaire in public. Tony wouldn't let glares stop him from doing anything. The Ministry kept time turners under very strict control, so Tony had to do what he could with the time he had, and chess with Pepper was important.
Tony's chess set was habitually rude in the extreme, only egged on by Jarvey, who, generally speaking, pretended to be a regular idiot jarvey when in the public eye. He was currently in an insult war with Darcy, scrambling around on her head and attempting to steal chicken from her plate.
"Stark, if you don't get your terrible rodent off of me, I will poison your chocolate stash," she whined at him genially.
"Jarvey, get out of Miss Lewis's hair and go bother someone else," Tony said absently as he considered his next move, then relayed orders to his chessmen.
Janet, seated on the far side of Darcy, humphed and said, "If that thing so much as touches me, I will consider it an attempt at sabotage of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team before tonight's game."
"Fine," Tony sighed. "Jarvey, you'd better get back here. These girls are no fun at all." Then he frowned. "Wait, the game is tonight?"
Pepper tutted. "No matter how popular you are, your housemates would not forgive you for flaking out on a Quidditch game. Especially after fraternizing with the enemy over lunch."
Pepper directed her troops, then continued. "For a genius, you certainly look oddly like an idiot child sometimes."
"I'm distractable. It's understandable. I get ideas."
"It's not just that. Your phoenix is named You. Your jarvey is named Jarvey! You really need help with creative naming of things."
"Uh, excuse me but these are my personal things and I'll call them what I want. If you think you can improve the product names Stark Spellworks use for marketing, be my guest. But leave my animals out of it."
Pepper chuckled. "Ah, that distracted you all right. Checkmate."
Tony pretended to look flustered, and actually he hadn't intended to lose. But he did always enjoy the smile on Pepper's face when it happened.
He wasn't surprised. After all, he had been handicapped a queen.
Tony Stark absolutely adored flying.
As far as he was concerned flying was the best thing in the world, and any excuse to be up on his broom was a great one. Playing Quidditch against Hufflepuff was one of the best.
Everyone on the team was at least decent. When Happy could manage to aim the bludger, it hit hard. When Janet had the quaffle, she was near impossible to stop. And getting a shot past Bucky in the Keeper's position was always a challenge. Even the combined force of the legendary chaser pairing of Stark and Romanoff had trouble. The Slytherins worked wonderfully together, Tony drawing all the attention while Natasha appeared seemingly out of nowhere to take the shot. Bucky was not easy prey even then.
But the real prize of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team was their seeker, Clint "Hawkeye" Barton, who always, always, always saw the Snitch first.
Stark prepped his team before the game. Other than Nat, who was a fourth year like him, the whole Slytherin team was both older and taller than him. If it intimidated him, he'd never let it show.
"Odinson," he said, "You know Barton is never going to fall for your illusions. He can tell a Snitch from fairy fire from half a mile. So for once, just focus on catching the thing yourself, all right? Watch Barton; remember, your broom is faster than his."
Loki's mouth tightened, but he nodded.
Tony enjoyed the game immensely. He scored two goals, and helped Natasha get another three. Hufflepuff only scored once, Janet of course. Tony couldn't spare much attention for the Seekers, but he did notice Loki hovering overhead and looking incredibly bored, and Barton even farther up, sitting on his broom almost nonchalant.
The next time Tony spotted Barton he was zipping downward, almost straight down, and he had the Snitch barely after Loki had noticed the motion. The crowd cheered. Loki looked exasperated.
"Your advice was extremely helpful, Stark," he spat as they walked off towards the showers. "Next time I'll do things my way."
Tony shrugged. He had done his part. "You're the sharp-eyed Seeker, practically the team all on your own, isn't that right? If you can't get the job done without a little enhancement, that's no business of mine." Tony smirked.
Loki continued walking, appearing unconcerned. But Tony knew he'd hit his mark.
The next week, Tony made it to chess club. Seven minutes late and trailing ideas for broom charms like a kite has tails, but he made it. Pepper was already playing against a Ravenclaw sixth year, but she waved at him warmly.
Tony sat down across from another Ravenclaw boy in his year; Tony thought his name was Bruce Banner.
"Up for a game, Banner?" Tony asked, pulling out his own chess pieces. "Haven't seen you here much before."
"No, I, uh," Banner stammered. "I keep to myself a lot. Pepper dragged me out. Yeah, a game, sure. Sounds good." He got out his own pieces and they began to set themselves up.
"She'll do that," Tony said, grinning.
Jarvey worked his way out of Tony's book bag, then, hopping up on the table. "You smell like wet dog," he said to Bruce.
Bruce's eyes widened, and then he laughed in a rather strained way.
"Don't take anything Jarvey says personally," Tony reassured the Ravenclaw. "He's much better at pretending to be a dumb animal than I am. Come on, Jarv, don't scare off my prey before I have a chance to play with him."
Tony grinned, and Jarvey darted up onto his shoulder and told Tony, "You've got scrambled eggs in your skull." Then he climbed over Tony's head, mussing up his hair, and perched on the other shoulder to peer at the board.
"Is he just going to sit there and stare the whole time?" Banner said somewhat nervously.
"Yeah, he'll stay put. He's very well behaved for a jarvey. Or are you looking for a reason to handicap me? We've already got our own brains and the experience of our armies. I doubt one more rabid furball between the two of us is going to tip the scales far in my favor." Tony scratched Jarvey's head as he said this.
So he almost didn't catch the expression that flitted across Bruce's face in response.
It was almost an expression of startled, wicked amusement. It softened to an abashed smile. "No, I suppose not," Bruce said. "Let's see how we're matched as is."
It was a particularly difficult battle. The Ravenclaw's game alternated between meticulous and impulsive. Tony really had to think. Jarvey kept his commentary unhelpful and insulting, and the chess pieces insisted on arguing about their orders. This was the most fun he'd had playing wizard's chess in a long time. This Banner kid was really quite good.
Tony won of course, but it was a close thing. And when Tony congratulated Bruce on a spectacular game, he just shrugged and said, "Well, thanks, but I know I'm out of practice."
That made Tony more interested than anything had yet.