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The Songbirds of Avebury Manor

Chapter Text

When I was fifteen years old, I presented as alpha, and it was as though heaven had opened up, a long overdue apology for the torment of my childhood. I woke up on my bed of hay, streaked with sweat and shaking, my cock throbbing and my knot swollen, and it was a baptism. After so many years, I had potential, I had options, I was free.

I left the hateful thrall of my aunt and uncle that same day, my paltry belongings all thrown into one rucksack, and left with minimal explanation. They had given me nothing and as such I owed them nothing, least of all a goodbye. I didn’t know where I was going when I left, but I knew it was far, far away from Surrey. When I came to the main road and turned west, I decided that west was as good as any direction. What did the direction matter, after all, when my new life was beginning?

In the fond retrospect of these, my later years, I count my idealism as amusingly childish. Every young alpha born into the lower classes thinks their presentation is the turning point, but the wisdom of age has taught me that this is not the case – not for the majority, and certainly not for me. Looking back now, I know the day my life changed, and it wasn’t when I presented. It came several weeks later, when I met Draco Malfoy.

I remember the day with such brutal, devastating clarity. I had been on my own for the better part of a month, moving west, ever west, until I found myself in Wiltshire. It was April, and the rolling green pastures were resplendent, bright with color and bursting with life. I had seen a want ad posted in the sleepy little hamlet of Sherrington – there was need of a new hall boy at the nearby great house, Avebury Manor.

I had no formal experience in service, of course, but I was optimistic. After so long as a ward of my dreadful aunt and uncle, I was no stranger to cleaning, and my newly minted status as alpha meant that there was a good chance I could be promoted to valet, or even to butler, within a few short years.

Avebury Manor, I was quick to learn from local gossip, was not just a great house, but the seat of the Earl of Wiltshire. And when I came upon it, I knew there was no way such a remarkably beautiful building could be anything but. As I came up over the hill it loomed down at me threateningly. Its bright sandstone walls seemed to challenge me, demanding to know what business I – a boy with and from nothing – had hoping to serve the noble House of Malfoy.

I would have lost my nerve and turned back if it hadn’t been right at that moment that I saw him.

I find it an incomparable challenge to put into words my thoughts and reactions to that first time I laid eyes on him. He was only one in a crowd of nearly two dozen, all of them on horseback and dressed for a hunt, but he stood out. Then again, no – “stood out” is not a term that does him justice. He did not stand out, he eclipsed. The beauty of Wiltshire, of the stately great house, of that perfect day in mid-April, shone like stars – but even stars vanish in the radiance of the sun.

And radiant he was, like an angel – with skin like porcelain and hair like platinum, he did all but glow. The perfect angles of his face where sharp enough to cut, and already they had wounded me. My heart thundered in the side of my neck. My nerves burned with some terrible combination of enchantment and roaring desire. I was overwhelmed.

“Can I help you?”

The voice slapped me out of my stupor and it was such an abrupt transition I nearly staggered where I stood. At some point, I had approached the front of the great house and the gathered hunting party preparing to leave.

The man addressing me was tall and reedy, with dark hair and darker eyes. I knew at once from his gait alone that he must have been the butler.

“I…”

My traitorous voice refused to work. I cleared my throat and tried again.

“I saw the want ad posted in the city,” I managed.

“For the new hall boy,” the butler said, and he turned his hawkish nose down slightly as he regarded me. Under his scrutiny I felt woefully inadequate. I became extremely aware of the accumulated dirt and dust on my trousers, of the streaks of sweat along my shirt, of the mud on my boots. I cursed my lack of foresight. I should have cleaned up before coming.

I averted my eyes from his discerning gaze and looked back up at the radiant angel on the black gelding. He was speaking to someone, smirking, and the curve of his lips was torturously appealing.

It was then that I noticed a gentleman behind him loading a shotgun with thick, clumsy hands. He’d put in the ammunition and had clicked the gun back into place, then began fumbling carelessly with it.

The butler was speaking to me, but I did not hear it. Several things happened one after the other.

First, I lunged forward, grabbing the angel by one arm and pulling with all my might.

Second, there was a deafeningly loud gunshot, followed immediately by several cries of alarm and the frantic whinnying of horses.

Third, my angel fell from his horse and landed on top of me in the dust.

There was shouting, frenzied at first and then angry. I could not hear them.

He was staring down at me, his eyes wide, his mouth open slightly, his body pressed flush to mine. My hands were on his arms, gripping tightly. I felt electric, alive and primal and possessive – was this, some distant part of my cogent brain wondered, the alpha dominance I had heard so much about rearing its head for the first time? Was he an omega awakening my instinct?

But I couldn’t detect a scent on him, and given the proximity, I should have been able to. I was forced to conclude that he had not yet presented, and that whatever it was making me want to devour him must have been something else.

“What—?” my angel began, and we were so close that the heat of the word ghosted across my cheek.

I swallowed and sat upright, with some difficulty. “Are you hurt?” I asked him, scanning his now dusty hunting clothes for signs of blood.

My angel had grey eyes flecked with silver. His pupils blew wide as he sat back on his haunches in the dust and slowly shook his head. He seemed nervous – surprised, too, though it was muted by a thrum of residual fear.

“Thank God,” I said, smiling, hoping it would ease him. It seemed to, somewhat. He hesitated, then returned the smile.

“—should have you brought up on charges for your gross incompetence, loading a gun in a crowd – Draco! Draco, where are you?”

The Earl of Wiltshire – and I knew at once that he must have been the earl, just by the look of him, his gravitas, his countenance – parted the horses as Moses parted the Red Sea. He was every inch my angel’s father, the same face, the same eyes, the same hair silvered with age. He was all sharp lines and hard angles, handsome and understated in his starched hunting garb.

“I – Father, I’m fine,” my angel – Draco, what an incredible name – said, and in his father’s steady grip he pulled himself out of the dust. The earl looked him over, not satisfied at his son’s insistence that he was well until he could see so for himself. “I’m fine,” he said again.

“That gun was pointed right at you,” the earl said gravely.

“I was pulled from my horse just in time,” Draco answered, looking across at me.

I hurried to pull myself up before the earl’s eyes could fall on me. Again I regretted with agonizing intensity my lack of foresight at not having cleaned up before I arrived.

He was an alpha, of course – inheriting nobility always were – but I could have known it on my own blindfolded and from ten feet away. He was every inch an alpha, the scent of it came from every pore, it was written into every line of his face and carved into his soul.

“And who’s this mysterious savior?” the earl asked. His voice was still tight with what remained of his initial panic, but his hackles had come down.

“I – My Lord, I’m Harry Potter, I…”

“He came about the want ad we posted in town,” the butler suddenly supplied.

The earl’s eyes darted to the butler and then back to me.

“Did he, indeed? After a display like that, I think we’d be remiss not to give him the position.”

After such an intense moment of fear, the quip brought a few nervous laughs from the surrounding hunting party.

“You’re an alpha, aren’t you?” he continued, hand canting to one side, nostrils flaring. It was an expression I’d grown used to over the past several weeks – whenever people came close enough to catch my scent, they’d always take a second breath of it, as if to be sure they weren’t mistaken.

“Yes, My Lord. I just presented last month.”

“Not every day an alpha crops up in the lower classes,” he remarked. “You’d make an excellent valet some day, I think it’s fair to say. You’ve already shown quite a strong protective instinct.”

I bowed my head. I hardly dared to believe my luck. I knew that, as an alpha, I’d have a natural advantage, but this all seemed almost too good to be true. “Thank you, My Lord. But it was just a stroke of random luck. Anyone would have done the same in my position.”

“And yet,” said the earl, “you’re the only one who did. For that, you have my most profound and sincere gratitude. Mr. Snape, why don’t you take young Mr. Potter to your pantry and get him set up?”

“Right away, My Lord,” said the butler – Mr. Snape, apparently – with a shallow bow.

“And thank you,” Draco suddenly said, after having been quiet for most of the conversation. “Mr. Potter. Thank you. You saved my life.”

God, but he was beautiful at that moment. The image of him, with his hair burning gold in the sunlight and his eyes wide and sincere, has stayed with me through the rest of my life.

It was that moment I knew on a very primal level that I would happily and enthusiastically kill anyone who dared harm him. It was such a simple feeling, so serene and honest, that it was not for several hours that I finally realized how strange it was of me to think it. Beautiful as he was, I barely knew him. What on earth could possess me to feel so violently protective of him so soon?

It seems almost comically obvious in hindsight. What could possess me to feel so protective of him? There was but one thing it could have been.

And as I followed Mr. Snape away from the hunting party toward the wide iron doors of Avebury Manor, I stole one last look at my angel and found that he was staring back at me, his expression some queer combination of anxiety and heartache and desire. My heart thrummed in my neck and it took everything in me not to run back to him and soothe it away.