A/N: I've been sitting on this awhile and decided to come back to it to jump start my writing habit. I'm pleased with how it's going so far and hope you'll enjoy it too!
My thanks to my betas Mamacita-san and refuz2luz for knocking this into shape, but since I fiddled with it after they were finished note that all remaining errors are mine.
And speaking of errors, hold off on flaming me for poor spelling until you read the ending author's note. And pay attention to Hermione's pronoun lesson!!
The young Auror blew the fringe out of his eyes and shook his head in frustration. It was turning into a really awful day. "You can't be serious, Kingsley. I can't do this. I don't want to do this. Can't you assign someone else to this case?"
The statuesque black man behind the desk raised a brow and frowned at his subordinate. "I'm not giving you a choice, Potter," he said firmly. "You will take this case. You will protect the leadership of the Renaissance Foundation to the best of your ability, and you will find the wizards committing these murders, or you can hand in your resignation. We don't play favourites here. Wizards and witches are being threatened and despite your feelings about the political leanings of the victims, you have sworn to protect them. If you feel that not everyone deserves equal protection under the law, then there's no place for you in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement's Auror corps."
Harry Potter dropped his head, chastened by the authority and hint of disappointment in his one-time trainer's voice. They'd stood side by side risking their lives for a world where equality was paramount, where one's blood status did not grant an individual greater or lesser rights and opportunities, or mark you for death. To refuse this assignment because there were mostly pure-bloods behind the Renaissance Foundation would be the height of hypocrisy. "Sorry, Kingsley," Harry said evenly as he reached again for the file. He sighed. "I want choice on my team for this, though."
Kingsley Shacklebolt nodded. "Of course, Harry. You have authorisation for a task force of six, including yourself, with additional tactical support as needed for detentions and crisis situations." Kingsley offered a small smile. "I've already reassigned Granger, Weasley, Finnegan, Pendleton, and Tonks' open cases, though if you want other Aurors, I can—"
For the first time since he'd initially been handed the case file, Harry grinned. "No, that's perfect. They're who I want. We'll take Staging Room 3 as our base of investigation."
"Your team will join you there as soon as I send out the memos." In an uncharacteristic show, the Head Auror's shoulders slumped slightly. "I'm sorry to have to throw you into this mess, but you're the best we have and the press is having a field day with these murders. Those vultures are going to be all over your team, but if anyone can handle it, you can."
Harry grimaced when he recalled the morning's headlines screaming the incompetence of the Ministry, the DMLE in particular, and the accusations of inaction based on the victims' identities. It was a high-profile case, and it made sense to place the Ministry's highest-profile Auror on it, but still it rankled. "It's all right, Kingsley," Harry sighed. "We'll catch these arseholes and things will go back to normal around here."
"From your lips to Merlin's ears," his department head said tiredly. "Go on, Harry. I expect a report on your initial progress by Saturday; the Minister wants to have something for the press to boost his approval ratings in time for the evening Prophet."
Harry shook his head, lamenting that the Minister of Magic, even when such a man as Arthur Weasley, always had to placate the press in some manner to stay ahead in the politics game. "Saturday morning, don't worry." He stood and Kingsley waved him on in dismissal.
Harry left Kingsley's office and headed for his new base of operations with the thick case file tucked under his arm, mulling over what he knew about the series of murders that were causing such havoc within Britain's magical community. He entered Staging Room 3 and sighed again. It wasn't that he didn't feel for the victims or that he wanted their murderers to go free, but he had to admit he was uncomfortable with the kind of people who'd been targeted. Fifteen years in the Wizarding world and he was still thrown for a loop every so often. He'd certainly never heard of triarii, as they were called, before these murders started making headlines. Half-humans, part-creatures, yes, these constructions made a kind of sense to him, but hermaphrodites? That just wasn't something that was supposed to happen in nature, was it? And he certainly didn't advocate the elimination of this third sex, but did they really need to flaunt themselves about so? He knew that the triarii looked relatively normal, and if they'd just use glamours and wear different types of clothing from what was currently favoured surely there'd be less harassment and this segment of the magical population wouldn't be targeted by psychotic mad wizards.
"Oi, Harry, hear we've been pulled for the he/she case?" Seamus Finnegan grinned broadly as he greeted the pensive team leader.
Harry smiled faintly and chuckled when Hermione Granger smacked him in the arm as she strolled into the room. "Really, Seamus," she frowned. "They're triarii, not he/she's. That's so—so derogatory!"
Her husband shrugged as he took his own seat. "Don't get her started, mate," he warned. "She's been on about this whole 'triarii aren't just birds with bits' thing since the story broke in the Prophet." Ron smiled affectionately at his wife, but there was a hint of exasperated patience there as well.
Tonks and Pendleton came in last. The latter was sipping her coffee as Ron spoke, and nearly blew the hot beverage through her nose with his last comment. "Birds with bits?" she sputtered, brushing droplets of the coffee spray from her navy Auror robes.
Ron grinned unrepentantly, patently ignoring his wife's glare, and said, "That's what some people are calling 'em."
Harry held up his hands before Hermione could launch into a lecture about the importance of using politically-correct terminology. "Well, we'll be using the correct terms here, as we're going to be having a lot of interaction with them until this investigation is wrapped up. So everyone take a seat. We have a lot to cover this morning. I want to get started tracking down leads so we can get these nutters off the streets."
"The herms?" Seamus asked, using another slang term for the triarii, with his best wide-eyed innocent look, not that it was ever really convincing.
"Seamus!" Hermione frowned, and again Harry jumped in before she could get rolling.
"That's enough, Seamus. Now let me brief you on what we do know. In the last six weeks, eight—uh—triarii have been found murdered in alleyways off public venues. Wainwright and Ricks handled the initial investigations; according to them, none of the victims reported harassment to the DMLE in the weeks prior to their deaths; however, all were somehow affiliated with the Renaissance Foundation." Harry ignored the groans and continued his summary.
"Each victim was brutally gutted via the Interanea curse; additionally all their bodies show signs of the Cruciatus. Someone out there wants these people to suffer and die. It's our job to find out who and put a stop to it," he said sternly, righteous determination filling him at the thought of killings which smacked of the cruel destruction unleashed during the worst Death Eater days.
"So far there have been few leads, though Wainwright and Ricks believed there might be some clues in poison-pen letters received by the Renaissance Foundation. That's one avenue of investigation. All the victims had connections to the Foundation, so I want us to split up. Hetty, Tonks, Seamus—I want you three to start by reviewing the previous case notes for new leads. Ron, Hermione—for now you're with me. The most recent letters make direct threats against the Renaissance Foundation's Executive Director, saying the next slaying will be higher profile and 'strike a blow at the heart of the problem.' We'll be interviewing the Director tomorrow and shadowing him for the foreseeable future."
Hermione's eyes grew wider, but Harry shook his head, a silent warning that she was not to interrupt just yet.
Seamus, however, missed that non-verbal warning as he was perusing the case file Harry had passed to the centre of the table. "Damn, are we sure the victims are all triarii, Harry? This poor lass don' look like no boy/girl to me. She looks perfectly normal." He pointed to a picture near the top of the file.
Harry frowned and waved his wand at the case file. In seconds the evidence board at the front of the room bore enlarged magical photos of the victims in life, along with brief biographical and demographical information. As was standard operating procedure, each photograph acted as a kind of album cover for additional photos taken during the investigation of the scenes and the post-mortem examination. No one wanted those photos on casual display, especially since occasionally unauthorised press personnel made their way into more sensitive areas of the Ministry, and no matter how battle-hardened one might be, gruesome deaths could unsettle the hardiest investigators.
"The latest victim." Harry pointed his wand at one of the snapshots on the board and a screen-sized enlargement was projected to hover in mid-air in front of the evidence board. "Seventeen-year-old Cameron Davis, a female-dominant triarii or gyrl—" Harry spelled the word out for his colleagues— "has become the face of these victims in the press, and the outcry for a swift resolution and justice is coming down heavy on the Ministry." The photo showed a young sandy-haired gyrl with flushed cheeks and bright hazel eyes, dressed in the standard Hogwarts uniform emblazoned with the Ravenclaw insignia, giggling and laughing with hir friends in the Quidditch stands.
"Politics and personal opinions have no place here." He glared at Seamus. "We get this done by the book. If the press starts hounding you, let me know." It was a transparent manipulation, but just to remind his team what faced other innocents should they be lax about their duty, he changed the photo projection to display Cameron's young body as found in an alley off the main thoroughfare in Hogsmeade, slit open from navel to neck, blood congealing in a dark pool around hir body and speckled in hir hair. He left it hovering a few moments, as his team paled, and flippancy was replaced by acceptance. They were all war veterans and had witnessed countless horrors. It was abhorrent to see such violence being perpetrated on innocents in peacetime. With another flick of his wand the image faded, and he looked grimly at his team.
"Seamus, you made one good point and that is, for the most part, it is hard to just look at someone and determine whether they're triarii or not. This is one reason we believe whoever is behind the attacks is using the Renaissance Foundation to root out their victims."
"Harry, you said all the victims had ties to the Renaissance Foundation. Is the connection the same for all of them? Could this be an inside job by someone who copied a membership list or something like that?" Pendleton asked.
He shook his head, "That's what we're going to find out. I don't know the victims' exact connection to the Foundation, just that each had an affiliation. We need to start with an understanding of the Renaissance Foundation, I think; who they are, what they do, who's backing them, before we can reach any firm conclusions." He offered a brief smile to his long-time friend at his left. "Hermione, what can you tell us about the Renaissance Foundation?"
Knowing she'd be asked, the brilliant young witch had been frantically scribbling notes over the last few minutes to gather her thoughts and the various bits of information she'd gleaned about this organisation, so when Harry turned to her she was ready to give her presentation.
"The Renaissance Foundation is a large private foundation which has as its mission to 'preserve, protect and promote Wizard-born culture and society.' There are several groups under this umbrella organisation including an orphanage, Heritage House; a comprehensive primary and secondary school, the Heritage Academy; the Isis Gallery of Modern Art and Sculpture; the Thaum Library and Centre for Research; and the Heritage Museum. It was founded shortly after the war and funded mostly by pure-blood families who'd remained neutral, like the Zabinis and Corners. Though, interestingly enough, there are several contributors who are declared Light families as well, the most prominent of those being the McGonagalls and the Smiths." The former Gryffindors shared a shocked look that their former Head of House would have ties to any organisation that promoted a pure-blood agenda. Hermione spared them all a commiserating glance.
Pendleton, the only non-Gryffindor among them, got them back on track. "What do the concerns of the triarii have to do with pure-blood politics, Hermione?"
Hermione nodded at her colleague. "All documented triarii are pure-bloods. Some say it's an effect of generations of inbreeding, others that there's always been a definitive third sex in the Wizarding world, but there have been no authoritative studies to support either claim. They're different from intersexed, transgendered, or transsexual Muggles, because not only are they magical but their development of dual sex characteristics is not only a fully 'natural' process, but both sets of reproductive systems are fully functional, which doesn't usually happen in cases of intersexed Muggles. Also, the Triarius condition develops at the peak of magical development, shortly before or after a wizard or witch's seventeenth birthday. Muggles who are affected are usually born that way and are often pressured into undergoing surgery to make their bodies clearly either male or female."
Seamus frowned. "So why don't more—uh—triarii have surgery, Hermione? You'd think they'd want to be normal."
She made a slightly impatient sound as she explained, "They are normal, Seamus. There's nothing wrong with them. And besides, it's considered a great honour for a family to have a triarii child, as supposedly they have very high levels of powerful innate magic. In fact, that's one way they try to identify the condition during standard magical antenatal testing. It's the same test they use to determine whether a child will be born a Squib. If the foetus shows high innate magical levels along with particular genetic markers, there's a good chance they will become triarii. Besides, if they're raised with that expectation, I'm sure the transition isn't so awkward."
Seamus shrugged. "All right, so all the triarii were pure-bloods and had something to do with this Renaissance Foundation. What's the motive, besides the claptrap they're printing these days about Muggle-born intolerance?"
"Don't know, Seamus. Could be financial, someone the Foundation burned and whoever it is goes after the triarii to throw us off their trail. Could be intolerance, could be wholly random; there are too many unknown variables to make a guess right now. Our interview with their Executive Director tomorrow may narrow things down a bit," Harry answered.
"Who is their Executive Director? We're going to be guarding him, right?" Ron asked.
Harry grimaced; his best friend was not going to like this, any more than he did really. "Renaissance Foundation's Executive Director is Draco Malfoy."
"WHAT? We should be locking that git up in Azkaban, not wasting time guarding that Death Eater! Harry!"
The team leader sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose under his glasses, "Look, Ron, I don't like it either. It seems to me the Renaissance Foundation is just the kind of place that endorses the bigotry and separatism that spawned the Death Eaters. But the fact is it's a private foundation, so it's beyond the control of the Ministry. There's no evidence they're anything but law-abiding, and every free citizen deserves equal protection. Former Death Eater or not."
"But Harry, surely this violates my little cousin's probation conditions or something?" Tonks asked, still frustrated, as many of them were, that Draco Malfoy had escaped justice for his part in the early days of the war despite his later dedicated work for the Order.
Harry shook his head. "No, I asked Kingsley. The Ministry may frown on the mission of the Renaissance Foundation, but Malfoy's participation in it is sanctioned as long as he refrains from criminal acts."
Tonks scrunched her nose and crossed her arms over her chest in a huff. "This reeks, Harry."
He shrugged. "Let's not get away from the true issue at hand. Someone is targeting the triarii. Our personal feelings about Malfoy aside, we have a duty to him and to the victims. So let's get to it, people. Hetty, Tonks, Seam—you three get to work on the previous case file. Hermione, work up a full profile of both the Renaissance Foundation and Director Malfoy. We need a list of their known enemies. Ron, do a commonalities profile of the victims; let's see if we can get a clearer understanding of their connection to the Renaissance Foundation, and each other, if there is any." He checked his watch for the time and looked up. "I'll be in my office preparing questions for tomorrow's interview and drawing up a protection schedule. We'll meet back here for a preliminary briefing on the victim's profile at four." Harry stood as Pendleton shot out her last question.
"Malfoy—do we know whether he's a target just because of his position with Renaissance Foundation?"
Harry was about to shake his head when Hermione threw out a bombshell for the small taskforce. "Hir position and identity both, I'd imagine. Sie's triarii as well, and very public about hir identity."
Ron and Harry's jaws dropped, and Seamus' eyes nearly boggled out of his head. "Malfoy's a he/she?" Seamus gawped.
"Well, that explains a lot. He was always such a ponce. It's 'cause he's a girl," Ron sniggered.
Harry shook away his shock and slipped out as Hermione launched into another chastising lecture complete with the importance of using gender-neutral pronouns. He made it back to his office despite the daze and sank into his chair. Malfoy was triarii. Had he known? He reviewed his memories of his schoolyard rival, trying to reconcile them with his new knowledge. Malfoy had always been slight. Even after most of the boys, including Harry, had shot up between fifth and sixth years, Malfoy was small by comparison. He'd gained some height in the intervening years, but when Harry had seen him last he was only as tall as Hermione, who stood even with Harry's shoulders.
Harry couldn't make determinations based on clothing, because Malfoy had worn loose slacks and baggy jumpers, as most of the Order had during the war, though perhaps that was an indication. He'd always been on the more effeminate side of masculine, Harry remembered. His cupid-bow lips and satiny complexion had been the envy of many girls at Hogwarts. And there had been those rumours…that Malfoy was gay.
What exactly constituted the sexuality of a triarii? Were they all bisexual? Harry wondered, and blushed to recall the bit of a crush he'd had on the fair-faced boy. Malfoy was good-looking. Beautiful even, if one could discount his atrocious personality. And like so many others, Harry had been enamoured of his unique good looks.
Harry turned his attention from his musings back to his work and wrote up a list of interview questions based on the findings of the preliminary reports and standard investigational avenues. When he'd finished, he drew up a basic duty schedule for the members of his teams assigned to Malfoy's protection. Hermione was good in the field but better with research, so he'd switched out many of the hours he'd initially slotted for her with Seamus. He finished the summaries needed for the open cases Kingsley had reassigned and by four was well ready to be away from his desk.
Because of a quick detour through the break room he was the last to arrive this time, a cup of steaming Earl Grey in hand. Quickly the team got to work, and Ron delved into his briefing.
"Here's what we have so far. You all know there have been eight victims to date," he began, professionalism well in hand thanks to a last-minute lecture from his wife. "The first, August Gabriel, was the oldest victim at 37. Sie was Renaissance's Financial Director. Sie also did volunteer work at the Heritage Museum and did pro bono financial planning for a few families with children at the Heritage Academy.
"When sie didn't return home for supper after a late-afternoon meeting with some potential investors, sie was reported missing by hir wife of fifteen years, Valerie, and found the next morning in an alley in the Wizarding section of Edinburgh. Though she is without a fully substantiated alibi, Valerie Gabriel was cleared as a suspect in the initial investigation. She and the couple's two youngest children were seen by neighbours gardening until around suppertime.
"The second victim, Jamie Ellicott, 35, taught French and German at the Heritage Academy. Sie also did volunteer work at the Heritage Museum and served as a mentor with the Renaissance Youth Program. Sie was found, like all the other victims, in an alley, this one in Swindon. Sie lived alone and had no close living relatives. The school administrators were the ones to report hir missing and were responsible for funeral arrangements."
Seamus held up a hand. "Ron, uh—about that. We'll be interviewing and I don't want anyone too brassed off to be cooperative, so how're we to know when it's he and his or she and her?"
Ron bowed theatrically and stretched his arm toward their resident encyclopaedia.
"It's pretty simple actually," Hermione said. "Binary gender classifications are typically eschewed by those with the Triarius condition or the transformation into 'third sex,' the development of secondary sex organs and reproductive system. The general public will usually try to classify triarii by their initial or primary gender identity, saying someone is a female-dominant, a triarii witch or gyrl, meaning they developed from identifiably female to triarii; or male-dominant, a triarii wizard or boi, meaning they developed from a male. The triarii themselves don't bother with trying to fit and say simply that they are triarii and use a third set of 'gender-neutral' pronouns to describe themselves. Sie, Hir, Hirs, and Hirself are used in place of He or She, His or Hers, Himself or Herself."
Seamus sat back with a nod satisfied and Ron launched back into his report providing detailed information on all of the victims: Leslie Fambrough, 34; Madison Thelwell, 30; Taylor Ablyngton, 26; Sidney Jeffcoate, 21; Chris Calcraft, 21; and of course, the face of their investigation in the press, Cameron Davis, 17. All were involved with the Renaissance Foundation. Though Gabriel was the only one to work for the Foundation administration directly, the rest were teachers, docents, researchers, and tutors.
"All of them were involved in some way with children or adolescents," Ron said once he'd finished the biographical information. "That may be an avenue to consider. They may be targets because whoever this is feels it's inappropriate to have children in close proximity to the triarii."
Harry frowned. "Is that a viable line of investigation? Is there a lot of anti-triarii sentiment when it comes to their interaction with kids?"
"There didn't used to be, but that's changed a lot in the last few years. It's similar to the perception gay men face in the Muggle world, that they're all paedophiles. The stigma facing the triarii isn't quite as pervasive, but there are those who believe that too much contact perverts children and encourages bisexuality," Hermione answered.
This time Harry scowled. "When did bisexuality become problematic in the Wizarding world? I mean, that's one area where we seem to have it better than the Muggles, in terms of acceptance of different sexualities."
"Things are changing, Harry," she replied gently. Harry's struggle with his sexuality had been extraordinarily difficult until he realised he wouldn't face the same kind of social stigma in the magical community as he would have in the Muggle world, beyond the grumbling disappointment of marriageable witches.
Harry harrumphed and motioned for Ron to continue his analysis. When they'd finished for the day Harry dismissed them, but signalled Ron and Hermione to stay.
"We have the interview tomorrow morning at ten, and begin the protection detail then. I want to observe Malfoy tonight, though, pace hi—uh—hir movements. It may not be anything, but I want a sense of who sie interacts with, outside of work." He raised his hand as the other two realised he meant to take on this additional assignment alone. "I don't know when I'll be able to give you both a free night together before this thing is over, so take tonight and enjoy it. I'll brief you in the morning on what I learn, if anything."
Hermione pursed her lips. "I don't like the idea of you going to follow Malfoy alone, Harry. Especially if sie's a target."
He shook his head. "In general, until we can determine whether there's an actual threat or if it's just some idiot blowing smoke, I'm only assigning one of us at a time to guard Malfoy. My going alone tonight poses no real danger. So stop worrying, Mione." He smiled at his friend. "Now go on, you two, go out for dinner or dancing or something."
Ron grinned and he drew his wife's hand over his arm. "You 'eard 'im, Mione, we've orders to go have a good time." He steered his eye-rolling wife away as she unsuccessfully attempted to stifle a giggle, then chuckling, tossed over his shoulder, "Have fun babysitting Malfoy tonight, Harry. I don't envy you!"
Harry smirked as his friends stepped onto the lift, and shook his head at Ron's antics. The ginger man could be incredibly proficient and intuitive in his professional duties, but at heart he was the same brash, brave friend and jokester of their youth, with a hair-trigger temper and deep-seated principles. He hoped for all their sakes that Ron would behave around Malfoy, since it was a given that Malfoy would provoke him at every opportunity.
Harry made a note to take some headache potion before it got too late, as he could feel a migraine building behind his eyes, and turned to head for his own office to pack up for the day and begin his surveillance. It was definitely a crap day and only getting worse.
A/N: So...that sie and hir thrown in now and again are not typos, get used to them because all references to triarii characters from this point on will be made using gender-neutral pronouns (no I didn't make them up). Let me know what you think, hit that little purple button and review! Thanks!