Band of Brothers
Year One: The Madness Within
Chapter 1
Of Mad Owls and Getting Ready



James had always been in love with the outdoors. When inside was nothing but floating feathers and glaring eyes, he enjoyed being out in the open meadow that surrounded the sanctuary. Even if it was just lying in the tall grass and staring at the sky. Most days he only knew the time by the position of the sun. So when grey light flooded behind his eyelids, he knew it was early morning. Very early morning. Far too early to even think about getting up. Grunting, James rolled over and buried his face in the pillow. But he was awake and there was no help for it.

Sighing, James opened his eyes and stared at wall. The wallpaper stared back at him, fuzzy brown lumps against a field of white. It didn't do any good not being able to make out the lumps. He knew what they were. Owls. Hundreds of pinky-sized owls papered over every spot of his room. Eyes constantly shifting. They used to hoot a lot too until James beat a section of paper with his shoe. Now they just watched and glared. James flopped over onto his back, staring at the ceiling and the soft light splashing onto it. He'd gotten up for a reason. A good reason judging by the vague sense of excitement that lumped in the back of his throat.

Today was…Monday. James bolted upright, hands clenched into fists, staring at the bed sheets without really seeing them. Monday! It was Monday! September first! He was going to Hogwarts today! Hogwarts! Hoggy warty Hogwarts!

Whooping loudly, James bounded out of bed, snatched his glasses and did the only sensible thing when one was awake and excited. He tore from the room, taking the cold basements steps two at a time until he burst out onto the first floor. James made a sharp turn, only losing a bit of speed and pounding up the twisted spiral stairway that went to the second floor. There wasn't much light yet up here, only the glow of a few dim candles so he didn't see the owl resting at the head of the staircase until he tripped over it. James yelped and went pinwheeling forward, slamming hard into the wall, nearly cracking his face into the mirror that hung there.

"Slow down, you little hooligan!" the mirror snapped. James pushed away from the wall and flicked the mirror irritably. But as he came to the door at the end of the hall, he did slow down. The owl head knob appeared to be asleep but gave an annoyed hoot when James turned it. Pushing the door open, he crept into the room, eyes fixed on the sleeping lump on the wide bed. As he came beside the bed, he hesitated, looking down into his Granddad's face.

"Granddad," he whispered. When the man didn't answer, James reached out with an index finger, intent on poking him in the shoulder.

"I must be dreaming," Granddad muttered before James even touched him. "For some reason, I feel like my grandson is in the room before the sun has even risen. But of course, it must be a dream because surely I raised him to be more considerate."

That was a good cue to leave. James knew he should leave and normally, he would. Only… Well… It was a special day.

"But…it's September first," James whispered, giving him a little prod.

"And the train doesn't leave until eleven," Granddad said, gently batting his hand away. "Go back to bed."

With a sigh, James turned and left the room, closing the door softly behind him. Going back to bed wasn't an option. But maybe he could go outside and wait for Dad. Or mum! James' heart leapt as he started down the brightening hall. She hadn't said anything about coming…but it was the first! She had to come! This was too important for her to miss. James' train of thought was suddenly derailed as he stumbled over something in the dark.

Muttering under his breath, he crouched down to see what had done it and nearly fell over. An owl lay there, flat on its back, feet sticking up into the air. It must have been the one he'd tripped over. Judging by the state of the bird, it wouldn't have taken much to do it in. The owl's feathers were all over the place, sticking up in odd patches here and there. Its talons were twisted and barely looked strong enough to hold a dead rat. A patch of sloping skin and feathers covered the place the owl's left eye used to be. This hadto be one of Granddad's special care owls.

"Please don't be dead," James whispered, prodding it gingerly in the side. The owl didn't move. Biting his lip, James poked it harder. It had to be alive. It had to be. Granddad would go completely out of his tree if James had killed it. Even accidentally. Even though it had been the bloody bird's fault it was sitting on the floor at the head of the stairs.

"Comon', stupid!" James hissed, giving the owl another jab. The owl hooted softly, opening one large yellow eye. Suddenly the owl was after him, bursting toward him like a feathery canon ball. James shrieked, throwing up his arms to cover his face. Talons whispered across the skin of his forearm and there was a loud disappointed hoot. James didn't bother to look back. Scrambling to his feet, he hurtled down the stairs. If he could just make it to his room.

James just barely made it down the stairs, skidding across the bare patch of floor at the bottom and slamming into the wall. The front door opened with a heavy thud and James glanced toward the sound automatically. A loud screech warned him to look back at the bird. It was swooping down at him, sharp talons aimed right for his face. There was no time to move.

"IMPEDEMENTA!" a man bellowed. The owl looked startled, and it slowed down in the air until it was almost floating. The talons pressed lightly at James' cheek. Scowling, James shoved it away and turned toward the sound of the voice. Standing in the doorway was a lanky sort of man with light brown hair that stuck up in every direction.

"Nice shot, Dad," James said with a grin.

"Ruddy bird," Dad muttered, setting his wand on the small table near the door while he pulled at the strings of his travel cloak. Crossing the room, James picked up his father's wand, testing the weight in his palm. He used to steal it all the time when he was little. Now he had his own. Mahogany wood, eleven inches, phoenix feather core, so Mr. Ollivander had said.

From across the room came an annoyed hoot. James turned, and saw the owl hunched on the floor, feathers ruffled irritably. Grinning, James leveled Dad's wand at the bird, thinking of all the interesting things he could do to it were he allowed to practice magic.

"I don't think so," Dad said with a laugh, taking the wand from his hand and ruffling his hair. James stuck his tongue out at him.

"Shall we to breakfast, then?" Dad asked, heading toward the kitchen. Instead of following him right away, James went to the front door and stared outside. The sun was just starting to rise, peeking over the edge of a rolling hill. Squinting slightly, he peered up into the sky.

"What will you be having, Master James?" Dad called from the kitchen.

"Um…pancakes I guess," James said distractedly, still staring intently at the sky.

"Coming right up!" Soon there was the clacking sound of moving bowls. James put his hands on the door, fingers twitching slightly against the cool wood. He should go help. Cooking breakfast with dad was a tradition. But… he wanted to be here the moment she arrived.

"It's not going to cook itself, James," Dad called after a while. James started to turn away, but a black speck appeared just below the clouds. Heart hammering against his ribs, James pressed himself against the door, watching the speck as it came closer.

"James?"
"In a minute!" James called back. It could be her! It could be! As the speck came closer, though, James' heart sank. What from a distance looked vaguely human now was only a small flock of owls, winging their way home. He sighed, leaning his head against the glass and picking absently at a splinter in the door. There were footsteps behind him then a soft sigh and warm hands squeezed his shoulders.

"What's wrong?" Dad asked. James looked up at him.

"Mum is coming, isn't she? She told you she would, didn't she?"

A frown flickered across Dad's face, but then he smiled and gently ruffled James' hair.

"Yes. If nothing comes up, she'll be here with bells on."

"If nothing comes up," James repeated, looking down at his feet. That's what she always said when she usually didn't show up. He hadn't seen her in a whole month and this was an important day…

"Don't worry," Dad said, pulling him into a hug. "It'll take a very big something to keep her away from you." James leaned into the hug a moment before looking up into Dad's face again.

"Does Mum just play Quidditch?" he asked. A funny expression crossed Dad's face.

"Why do you ask?"

"It's the off season, isn't it? And she can't be practicing all year…" He wrinkled his nose. "And why does she leave sometimes in the middle of the night?"

"And you should save your questions for Hogwarts," Dad said, flicking a finger over James' nose. "Now, come on, let's make those pancakes." In a fluid movement, Dad bent down and the next thing James knew, he was hanging off Dad's shoulder, staring at the floor.

"Ahh! I've been taken hostage!" James cried, struggling in his father's grip.

"Too right you have! And now you will be forced to make the best pancakes in the known world!" Dad said in a forceful voice, marching them toward the kitchen. Soon Dad had set him down on the kitchen table next to a large bag of flour and was waving a finger at him.

"Now you will pour the appropriate amount of that." He pointed to the flour. "Into there." He pointed to a mixing bowl. "Or you'll sorely regret it."

James saluted then began to pour the flour into the measuring cup. With a series of flicks with his wand, Dad bought the stove to light and bought the other ingredients onto the table as well. Suddenly James had an idea. An idea that Dad was in just enough of the right mood to let him get away with. Dad's back was currently turned as he riffled through the icebox for something. Grinning, James swept the mixing bowl to the floor. Dad turned at the noise. Then gave him a smile and knelt to pick it up. As soon as Dad's head was in range, James turned the measuring cup over. The flour fell onto his father's hair all at once, making a muffled poff when it hit. Dad stilled then looked up, giving James a narrow eyed look.

"Oops," James said, fighting to keep the grin from his face.

"Oops. I'll believe oops when you grow feathers."

"I did so mean oops!" James insisted, fingers creeping over to where the eggs were. "I forgot the—AHH!" his last word ended in a shriek as Dad lunged at him. Laughing wildly, James scooted back across the table.

"Oh no you don't!" Dad said, darting around the other side. Yelping, James tried to get away, but Dad's fingers were suddenly dancing across his ribs.

"AH! Stop!" James squealed, laughing and wriggling under the tickling fingers.

"Are you sorry?" Dad said, grinning down at him.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" James squeaked, trying to push his hands away. With a laugh, Dad pulled James into a tight hug then bent his head and began to shake out his hair. James was caught between laughing and coughing as the flour feel on his face, covering his glasses.

"Well!" said an annoyed, yet slightly amused voice from the door. "You two certainly make a mess of things."
For one mild moment it sounded like mum. Pulling away from his father, James hastily swiped a sleeve across his glasses… But it was only Grandmother standing in her nightgown, shaking her head yet smiling at the same time. Granddad stood behind her, openly grinning. In fact the only person who didn't look happy was the one-eyed killer owl from this morning which was currently perched on Granddad's shoulder.

"I suppose you have an explanation?" Grandmother pressed.

"Sorry, Marilyn," Dad said, running a hand through his hair and releasing another rain of flour. "We were…er…cooking breakfast."

"I can see what you were doing," Grandmother said, raising a single eyebrow.

"Just trying to save Hesta the trouble, ma'am," Dad said with a sweeping bow.

"Your famous charm won't work on me, Russell Potter. You can just clean this kitchen right up."

"Stung," Dad said, clapping a hand over his heart. James giggled and Grandmother's piercing gaze snapped over to him.

"And you, young man, to the shower with you."

"Aww, but Grandmam," James whined, fixing the woman with his best puppy dog look. He'd just taken a shower two days ago. He couldn't be that dirty.

"I'll not have you going to school looking like you rolled out of the pig pen. Now go," she said, flapping her hands. With a resigned sigh, James slipped off the table and headed drudgingly up the stairs to the bathroom, pushing open the door.

Once inside, it was an entirely different manner. Stripping off his pajamas he nearly fell into the wide bathtub and adjusted the tap. Pleasantly hot water shot out of the showerheads at either end and James washed as quickly as he could, making sure to get behind the ears. When he was done, he dove out and tripped into his clothes which had appeared neatly folded on the hamper. He took his time going out the door, though. If Grandmother thought he had been too fast, she would make him go back and do it again.

As he came slowly down the spiral stair, he heard their voices in low conversation drifting in from the kitchen. James paused on the step, listening intently. Usually when they talked that softly it was because they didn't want him to hear. And if they didn't want him to hear, that meant that he probably needed to know.

"…she said?" Grandmother asked, sounding a bit strained.

"Not much," Dad said. "Nothing to tell you anything definite. You know that." There was a slight pause.

"Now don't fret, dear," Granddad said. "I'm sure she'll tell us all we need to hear when she comes. She…is coming, Russell?"

"I hope so," Dad said softly. "For James' sake."

"Speaking of James—" Granddad started. "It's not that we don't love him."

"Because we do," said Grandmother hastily. "He's almost like a son to us."

"And we understand how important your careers are to you," Granddad added. "We have nothing but respect for what you and Sophie do…."

They trailed off. Pain ached up James' hands and he suddenly realized he'd come to grip the bars of the handrail tightly. Pulling his hands away he brushed his palms absently against his trousers and listened on baited breath.

"What are you trying to say?" Dad asked, sounding puzzled. There was another stretch of silence.

"We think you should move out," Granddad said.
"What!" Dad spluttered, mirroring James' thoughts exactly.

"Move out. The three of you. Find a home somewhere close to civilization. Somewhere where James will have children his own age to play with."

Dad laughed a little.

"If this is about James finding friends, I'm sure he can find plenty at Hogwarts."

"It's not just that," said Grandmother softly. "We feel…we feel that it's time you two started raising James on your own."

"He's eleven," Dad said, sounding mildly irritated. "He's going to Hogwarts. How much more raising does he need?"

"A great deal more," Granddad said, sounding just as annoyed. "Russell, a boy doesn't stop growing at eleven. Hogwarts or no, James still needs his parents."

"Don't you dare insinuate we're not here for him," Dad fairly snapped.

"But not enough." Granddad pressed. "Having his parents come home to spend time with him shouldn't be a treat."

James stood without thinking, heart beating fast in his chest. They sounded like they were about to row. An unexpected surge of anger washed through him. They couldn't row! Not today. Today was his day! The big day. He was going to Hogwarts for the first time ever and they couldn't fight!

"Don't tell us how to take care of our son," Dad was saying heatedly.

"I will when you actually start doing it," Granddad shot back.

"Now stop it," Grandmother snapped. "This was supposed to be an adult conversation but if you two insist on sniping like children--"

"But Marilyn…." Granddad said.

"No, Herman. Besides, James should be out of the shower by now."

There was silence after that. The knot in James' stomach eased. At that moment, Grandmother was the best person in the world. Showing up too soon would look suspicious so James waited a moment before tromping loudly down the remaining steps, making sure he was grinning as he came into the kitchen. Dad, Granddad and Grandmother sat around the kitchen table, looking strained. As James came in though, Dad looked up and gave him a smile as false as James' own.

"Clean behind your ears?" Grandmother asked, giving James a pointed look.

"Yes, ma'am," James said, taking a seat by his father. There was another long silence. Granddad suddenly clapped his hands, making James jump.

"Well, who's hungry?"

Breakfast was simple with toast and eggs. Grandmother hadn't wanted to spoil his stomach for the grand feast he was to have later that evening. The strained small talk through the meal was even worse then the silence. James excused himself when he couldn't stand it anymore, escaping to his room. Flopping down on his bed, he automatically took the mouse cage off the nearby table only to remember it was empty. Sighing, James held the small cage to him, feeling an ache build in the center of his chest. Squeakers was gone, Dad and Granddad were fighting and Mum probably wasn't even going to show up.

James closed his eyes. Maybe it was all a dream. Maybe when he opened his eyes the sun would still be down and he could start the day the right way. There was a whispery sort of noise James knew to be wings and a moment later, something settled on the bed next to his head. James turned his face, opened one eye and saw a single yellow eye staring right back at him. It was the killer owl from earlier.

"What do you want?" James grumbled. The owl hooted softly then bent forward and gently tugged at James' hair with its beak. It seemed to be an apology. As much as James wanted to hate the owl, he simply couldn't.

"You're not just trying to trick me are you?" he asked dryly, even though he didn't mean it. The owl ruffled its feathers indignantly, the effect making it look shabbier then it all ready was. James laughed softly, reaching up to stroke the owl's chest with two fingers.

"Just joking, mate. Just joking," he said.

"Glad to see you're getting along," Dad said from the door. James sat up and gave his father a half smile.

"Yeah. It isn't so bad."

"That's good," Dad said; crossing the room and reaching down to gently stroke the owl's back. "As your grandfather was going to give him as a gift."

"Him?" James asked incredulously. "Looks like he's been run through the mill a bit." The owl gave him an annoyed look.

"Mm," Dad said with a nod. "But according to your grandfather he's stronger then he looks and has quite a sense of character."

James thought a moment.

"Well, he seems quite mad and he's only got one eye. So maybe I'll name him Mad-Eye."

Dad laughed.

"Well your grandfather said his name was Argo, but I'm sure you can call him whatever you want." The owl hooted as if to say that Argo was quite decent a name, thank you very much. James grinned. This owl—Argo—wasn't really bad at all, was he? But he'd never replace Squeakers. James frowned a little at the thought. Poor little Squeakers.

He stared forlornly at the small cage still in his hand. It wasn't a cage really. More a little nest for Squeakers to curl up in at night. During the day Squeakers had always been with him, either in his pocket or riding high on his shoulder.

"You miss him, don't you?" Dad asked, sitting beside him. James nodded. Dad knew about Squeakers, of course. James always told him everything.

"It's all that stupid Black's fault," James said, vividly remembering the other boy's laughing face.

"The Blacks are a nasty lot," Dad said. "Muggle haters the lot of them and up to their necks in dark arts." Dad scowled. "Not that anyone's been able to prove anything." He shook his head and gave James a stern look. "You keep a good eye on the young Black while you're at Hogwarts. Understand? Don't turn your back on him for a second."

"I won't. Won't let him get away with… with what happened to Squeakers either."

Dad suddenly straightened as if he heard something. Taking out his wand, he made a little swishing motion and the door clicked shut. Then he reached in his robes and took out something which he kept fisted in his hand.

"I was going to save this until later. My mates and I would set it of in the common room at the start of every year, you see. To sort of consecrate it." As he spoke, Dad slowly unclenched his fingers to reveal what was undoubtedly a dung bomb. "However I think in this situation you might have to use it a little earlier."

James stared at him blankly. Dad grinned.

"Black's most likely going to be sorted into Slytherin," Dad said, patiently. "Rather difficult to get at without getting into trouble. As of right now though, you have a smart owl and a particularly smelly dung bomb at your disposal. All you have to do is drop one of these things to set them off…"

James suddenly got it, feeling his own face stretch into a grin to match his Dad's.

"Not that I'm condoning this, mind," Dad said, raising a warning finger. "But this is a special occasion."

A moment later, they were standing outside in the warm September morning, watching Argo wing away on his mission. James smiled, smelling the fresh air and feeling the sun warming his face. Suddenly it felt like it should again. Despite everything. It was September first and he was going to Hogwarts. Dad wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

"Well then, James old boy. It's time to get a move on. Let's--" But a loud crack behind them stopped whatever Dad was about to say. James turned at the same time his father did and saw a witch had Apparated there. A witch with shoulder length black hair and dancing hazel eyes behind wire-rimmed spectacles.

"You look like a couple of codfish," she said with a laugh, opening her arms. "Come here and greet me properly."

"MUM!" James cried, dashing into his mother's embrace and making her grunt and take a step back. But then she laughed again and her arms closed around him.

"You've got to stop growing or next time you'll knock me right over!"

"I've missed you, Mum," James murmured.

"I've missed you too, poppet. And to think you're all ready starting school." She slipped her hand under James' chin and raised his face to look up into hers. "But you'll have a grand old time."

James grinned.

"If every day is like today, I know I will!"


-kough-

Yeah, okay. So originally this was going to have all four view points crammed into one chapter. Being as it's six pages long as is, I thought it would be wiser to break them up. But all four should consolidate into one chapter by the time they're actually together in school. And they will get there! Believe me! And stuff will happen! Important stuff! --waves arms--

And as of today:
BOOK SIX IS COMING OUT IN TWO MORE DAYS!
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

--kough kough--

Thanks to Crystal. I love you, sweetie!

And also to Rising Dragoness. (Can't remember your real name)

Anywhich

Onward and Upward!