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The Case of the Missing Wizard
Chapter 2. Slaughter in Surrey

By Ishtar

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Author Notes:

Warning:   This chapter includes graphic descriptions of a murder scene - including bodies and blood and so on.  

Friday, July 31, 2015

The police car drove slowly down the suburban street, not because the driver was not in a hurry to reach the destination, but because of all the other vehicles parked haphazardly across the road and the civilians wandering about and ignoring things like moving vehicles while trying to catch a glimpse of the crime scene. In the back seat of the vehicle, Sherlock Holmes fidgeted and finally uttered a hiss of frustration. “Oh, for – Let us off here. We’ll be faster walking!”

“Yes, sir.” The driver obligingly pulled over to the first empty spot at the kerb, parking at an angle and making his own addition to the obstacle course of the street. “It’s Number Four, just down there.”

“As if I couldn’t see a house completely festooned in police tape. Have you got that thing working yet, John?”

“Just about.” John Watson finished fiddling with his digital recorder/transmitter and clipped the mic to his lapel. He hit the button and a red light blinked on. “Testing, testing. Mary had a little lamb.” As he got out of the car, his phone beeped and he paused to look at it.

Your little lamb won’t go down for her nap. Xox MW

“Okay, final check says it’s working. Now let’s just hope it keeps working.” He pocketed the recorder.

“Just make sure this one doesn’t wind up at the bottom of a river,” said Sherlock dismissively. His own recorder was safely tucked in his jacket pocket, the mic clipped where no one except himself, and possibly his brother Mycroft if he were here, would notice it. “Look at this place! I think if I lived here I might have to flee screaming from the boredom.”

“Looks a nice place to me,” said John. “Safe. Today notwithstanding, anyway. Nice houses. Probably good schools. Good place to raise kids.”

Sherlock strode along the path briskly, ticking off points as he went. “Bedroom community built in the late 60’s. Only four different house plans in the entire estate, two of them mirrors of the other two. All the same brick and stucco facing. Fifty years on, there’s a few coloured front doors and Japanese maples in the gardens, and one facing changed to pebble-dashing instead of brick, but nothing really distinctive or individual on the entire street. Oh, and it’s become apparent that the construction work was shoddy and the whole place will fall down spontaneously in about twenty years. You and Mary would go mad here. Amanda might very well make it her jumping off point for taking over the world.”

“She’s got to start somewhere,” said John reasonably. “But let’s wait until she’s learned how to walk, all right?”

“This is no place to start a power play,” disagreed Sherlock. “Just think of the name. Little Whinging? Who thought that could possibly be a good name for a town?”

They were approaching the house set off by the police tape, and the crowd of looky-loos had become quite thick. Finally they managed to bull through the crowd and duck under the police tape. The immaculately maintained lawn was being ruined by police officers tramping back and forth across it. An ambulance crew was readying stretchers, but they were not in a rush. Bodies and not injured – survivors would have been removed already, but the dead do not require speed. John carefully avoided a spot where somebody had been spectacularly sick on the pavement. One of the younger police officers was looking suspiciously green and like he was only waiting to find a somewhat more private place to do it before also indulging. This is ugly . And Lestrade, done up in a blue coverall and white shoe covers, was waiting in the doorway for them. This isn’t anywhere near his jurisdiction, which means that the Surrey Constabulary is so far out of its depth that they’ve kicked it up the line and requested help from the Met. And the Met sent Lestrade, who sent a car to shanghai us, probably before he even made it to the scene himself. Wonderful!

“Got something interesting for you, Sherlock. At least an eight. Maybe a nine.” Sherlock’s eyebrows rose. Lestrade had started using his code for “interesting” cases a few years ago, and had become fairly accurate in his estimates. A nine was … well, the last nine had had snipers’ crosshairs on John’s head and Sherlock himself going off the edge of a roof at St. Bart’s. Not a good memory.

“Let’s hope it’s just an eight,” said John, apparently sharing Sherlock’s dislike for nines.

“I don’t know. This one’s got everything. Locked room – locked house, anyway – impossibly short time frame, disappearing perps, and we don’t even know what killed the victims.” He beckoned them into the entry hall of the house, where he handed John a coverall, nitrile gloves, Tyvek shoe covers and a tiny jar of menthol ointment. Sherlock got just the gloves and shoe covers – Lestrade knew there was no way the consulting detective was ever going to wear one of those coveralls or use the ointment. As it was, he looked at the shoe protection scathingly. “Trust me, if you ever want to wear those shoes again, you’re going to need those,” said Lestrade. Once the appropriate gear had been donned and menthol applied, he nodded. “Come take a look.”

The smell in the house was ripe and thick ( blood, urine, faeces, vomit and dead flesh, festering for a couple of hours in hot July weather ). Sherlock suspected he might find himself wishing he’d protected his clothing – and possibly used the ointment – after all, just this once. Fortunately it was too warm to have worn the Belstaff; he’d never have been able to get the smell out of the wool.

Flies had already discovered the bounty and were buzzing about the doors and in the house.

A flight of stairs rose to the right, with a boot cupboard underneath, and the hall opened at the end into the kitchen. An archway to the left opened into a living room, from which came the odour of death and the buzzing of the flies. In the middle of the floor was the body of an obese, aging man, who lay in a peculiarly rigid position flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling. His shirt was open, and his gut was open as well; somebody had slashed him from his throat straight down his abdomen, deeply enough that his sternum was split in two and his internal organs protruded from the wound. Loops of intestine and the pink of the lungs were clearly visible. The oatmeal-coloured carpeting was saturated with blood.

Sherlock stood stock still in the archway, taking in everything he could from that vantage point. John peered into the room from Sherlock’s side. “Oh, God,” he muttered. “This … it’s worse than Afghanistan.” He drew his phone out of his pocket and took a quick picture and sent it off with a message heading reading VERY UGLY .

Lestrade stood on a clean section of carpeting between the victim and the front window of the living room.

“First victim is assumed to be Vernon Dursley, homeowner. We’ll confirm that as soon as we find his wallet, but …”

“First victim?” asked John, squirming past Sherlock and squatting to take more pictures.

“Second is over there, on the other side of the coffee table,” said Lestrade, pointing to the aforementioned piece of furniture. From John’s new position, he could see a pair of legs, clad in women’s trousers and flats and tightly bound with grey cords, protruding from behind the coffee table.

Sherlock finally moved, circling around the man’s body to look behind the table, and John followed. The woman was thin, about the man’s age, and fully dressed in brown slacks, a flowered blouse, and kitchen apron. The front of her clothing was saturated in blood, though no obvious wound could be seen. She was lying on her right side in between the sofa and the table. More of the grey cord was wound in an elaborate knotting pattern around her wrists and forearms, binding them behind her.

“Petunia Dursley, age 59, wife to Vernon. ID confirmed from her purse on the hall table,” Lestrade continued. “No cause of death yet, most likely exsanguination. Wanted you to see the bodies in place before we moved them for examination.” His voice was thick; even the veteran police officer was affected by the sight – or possibly the smell, menthol overlay notwithstanding. “We’re pretty sure this was a hit of some kind, somebody wanted to send a message…”

“Hold on, how are you so sure it was a message?” asked John.

“That,” said Sherlock, pointing at the wall next to the arch. The striped faux-Victorian wallpaper bore words written in blood - HAPPY BIRT and then half of an H. “Happy birthday – the killers were obviously interrupted while writing it. Message to someone, presumably not the victims, but connected. Most likely the son, there are pictures of him all over the place – we can track him down later. Let’s get to work.”

Sherlock’s work, as usual, went fast. He touched neither body, but moved around them like a spider, pausing and flicking out his magnifying glass when needed. John followed, taking pictures where Sherlock indicated. One of Lestrade’s men followed John, taking the exact same pictures for the police file, plus extras. If Sherlock spotted something that might be physical evidence, he shot a peremptory finger at it. A numbered place marker was put down; a matching numbered evidence bag was handed to him. He’d pocketed one too many pieces of evidence over the years, and had agreed to these procedures with Lestrade under threat of being banned from police investigations otherwise. When trace samples were taken, he was allowed to take duplicate samples for himself. It was rare when his analysis wasn’t faster and more accurate than the CID’s – mainly because his analysis wasn’t competing with a backlog of hundreds of other cases.

Once the pictures were done, John did a rapid physical examination, noting the condition of the body, state of rigor, and so forth. A forensic tech would follow, getting the additional detail required for the police report.

They started with Victim Two – Petunia Dursley – because that’s where they happened to be standing. Sherlock inspected the bindings on her hands and legs ( grey silk cord wrapped from ankles to knees and wrists to elbows, knots formed Celtic-style patterns ), fluffed her hair briefly ( grey at the roots, dyed the colour she thought her hair was when she was younger ),smelt her perfume ( Chanel knockoff ), looked under the sofa and coffee table ( no dust bunnies ), and scrutinized her earrings ( real pearls, large size but middling quality; for show, not real value ). Once pictures had been taken, Sherlock gestured, and police officers moved the sofa and coffee table to allow him to roll the woman onto her back, at least as much as the early stages of rigor would allow. The source of the pervasive odour of vomit was revealed to be a puddle beneath her, which she had fallen into at some point. Her blue eyes were wide, her lipsticked mouth open in a silent scream. The front of her blouse was lumpy and distended. Making sure that Lestrade and the tech were watching him, he delicately opened the white buttons that stood out against the taut, stained fabric.

The incision started at the right shoulder, slicing cleanly through the collarbone, and cut sharply across her chest and abdomen to just above her left hip. Lungs and bone popped out as the restraint of the clothing was removed. At the fourth button, the stomach, already distended with gas. The police photographer dropped his camera and fled for the door. Sherlock caught the camera before it hit the ground and handed it absently to Lestrade. “That’s strange. Very strange.”

“Tell me something about this that isn’t,” replied the DI.

Sherlock ran his finger beneath the band of the woman’s bra, then followed the incision down to the apron that covered her hips and thighs. He briefly checked the apron pocket – nothing there, and her slacks had no pockets – and squatted back on his haunches to give her a long, considering look before turning in place to look at the husband.

His once-over was just as fast on the big man. The shirt was conveniently open already, allowing the organs to gape out, and he tugged briefly at the victim’s belt to pull the waistband down a bit. Wound continues below the belt and waistline of the pants. He inspected the position of the hands ( held rigidly along the thighs) , the face ( mouth closed, features impassive, tears leaking from the eyes and running down toward the ears) , took a brief inhalation near the man’s face and coughed a bit ( mint toothpaste covering something sickly sweet) . He tugged at the fingers, tried and failed to move the head. Total rigor?

“John. Can you give me body temperatures? Estimate time of death?” Lestrade started to say something, then fell silent again as the forensic tech passed the probes to John.

“I’m not even sure where their livers are at the moment,” complained John, but he quickly did the tests and the tech recorded the scores. “From the body temps and current room temperature, estimated time of death would be about four hours ago, plus/minus half an hour. But post-mortem lividity –” he looked at the bruises forming on the woman’s face. “She’s got appropriate lividity for that time frame, but him – practically none. It should be clear on the backs of his arms and the back of his head by now, even with the amount of exsanguination present.”

“What could cause that?” asked Sherlock.

“Flash-freezing of the body, maybe. Extremely rapid clotting of the blood so it didn’t have time to pool. Massive dehydration. The Andromeda Strain. None of which are conditions applying here.”

“He was diabetic. Poorly controlled, in ketoacidosis. Could that have had any effect on it?”

“That’s not one of the symptoms, no.”

Sherlock pointed at a safely clean section of the floor in front of the telly. “John. Lie down on your back. Try to approximate his position.”

“Should be easy, he’s just … on his back.” John inspected the body, then lay down where indicated, flat on his back and staring up at the ceiling. Sherlock looked back and forth between him and Vernon, adjusting his position as desired. Feet together, toes pointed straight up at the ceiling, legs locked, shoulders square, arms locked alongside the body – the hands aren’t even quite touching the ground there – spine rigid, head facing directly forward, mouth tightly closed.

“Now relax. Let your muscles go limp. Play dead.”

John complied, and Sherlock carefully eyed the positions into which his hands and feet and head fell . Chest and shoulder and arm muscles relax, both hands touch the ground, one palm facing downward and the other up. Spine conforms better to the floor, head tilts to the side, jaw relaxed, mouth slightly open. Feet fall apart, rotating outwards and downwards from the heel.

“You can get up now. How did those positions feel?”

“The first was definitely unnatural. Like I was holding at attention for an inspection, but even more so, if you know what I mean. The toes-up position in particular was a bitch to hold. That has to be a conscious position – he couldn’t have held it after he was dead.”

“Whereas the second posture you took –”

“Much more natural.”

“Wouldn’t rigor explain that?” asked Lestrade. “She’s not in any sort of natural position either,” he said, indicating the woman’s body with a nod of his head.

“She was sitting on the sofa when they did whatever they did to her,” said Sherlock. “She pitched forward onto her knees between the two pieces of furniture, which then held her in that position. But they did something to her husband that held him, in that unnaturally rigid posture, on the floor as they killed him. You can tell from the angle of the cut, the pooling of the blood inside the body cavity, and the trail of his tears, that he was lying down at the moment of his death. His eyes were open, he must have seen it coming, but his face is completely impassive. He didn’t scream, despite the agony of his wound. And he did not move, despite the relaxation that would have followed his death, for at least three hours until rigor set in. He’s far too rigid for the elapsed time. There’s still some flexibility in her muscles and joints. None at all in his. Even his fatty tissue feels solid.”

“Maybe some kind of drug? We’ll be running tox screens on both of them, maybe whatever caused the lividity thing also caused this.”

“Maybe a drug,” said Sherlock. His tone said that he didn’t have much hope for it. “Whatever it is, it’s more likely to be one improbable thing causing both effects than two separate improbable things. I believe you were right, Lestrade. Definitely a nine.”

“What about the death wounds, then?” asked the Detective Inspector. “A knife, do you think? Or something bigger?”

“Bigger?” asked John.

“I was thinking a sword, maybe. Short sword, scimitar, wakizashi, something of the sort. Deep wound, single long slash, straight cut, no hesitation marks or deflection when it hit bone. Bit much for just a knife.”

“It’s obvious that whatever killed them, it wasn’t a blade,” snapped Sherlock.


“You know, I really think you enjoy making me explain sometimes. You can’t be this thick otherwise. First of all, there is no blood spatter, for either body.” He stood over the body of Vernon Dursley and looked up at the ceiling, at the nearest walls, and the carpeting, and mimed the swing of a weapon that might have caused such a wound. It was apparent to both John and Lestrade that there was, in fact, no back spatter on the wall or the carpeting outside of the pool of blood immediately surrounding the body.

Lestrade rose and turned to face the sofa where Petunia Dursley had died, obviously trying to recreate the scene for himself. “So if she was … sitting up … and the killer slashed with his right hand ....” He took one step forward to mime a slash as Sherlock had done, and his foot stepped right into the spot where the coffee table had been. “That’s not right. Whichever of them died second, if it was the same weapon, there would have been spatter from the first one’s blood on the swing into the second body, and spatter of their combined blood on the back swing. Plus here, the table would keep the killer too far away to make that kind of wound. Or make them step around and in to do a close-range slash from a different angle. Entirely different type of wound.”

Sherlock stood aside with his arms crossed and a look almost of pride on his face, like a parent watching a child tying its own shoes for the first time. “Bravo, Lestrade. We are now getting somewhere. Look at the woman. The wound goes under her undamaged and still buttoned blouse, bra, apron, trousers and pants. Same thing with her husband – the cut goes under his belt and trousers. What can cut through flesh without cutting through the clothing above it?”

“I don’t know, what?”

“I don’t know either. But it’s crucial that we find out.”

“Maybe they undressed them and then dressed them again after.”

“You can’t re-dress a dead body again that neatly, especially with that much blood leaking all over everything and organs flopping about. There would be blood smears showing it.”

“I suppose you’ve tried it,” said Lestrade.

Sherlock just gave him a Look.

“’Course you have,” muttered the DI. “How about a laser, then? Some high-tech thingy that only cuts flesh?”

“Why not suggest a sonic screwdriver or a light sabre while you’re at it?” asked Sherlock with some asperity.

John raised his eyebrows in surprise – usually Sherlock claimed to delete anything relating to pop culture as useless. But of course he would retain information on anything that might be used as a weapon.

“The only obvious weapon in the room is the victim’s shotgun,” Sherlock said, pointing at the gun, which was neatly tagged and lying in one corner where John had completely missed it. “There’s no sign he was a sportsman, which means he was paranoid enough to believe he needed it for self-defence. He’s owned the gun for years, but never actually fired it. Good thing for him, the barrel is slightly bent, and it would have blown up in his face. Whatever the murder weapon was, the killers – there were two of them, you can tell from the footmarks on the carpeting – brought it with them and took it away again. We find them, we’ll find it.” He contemplated the bodies. “The husband is disarmed without setting off the shotgun and simply left lying on the floor in the peculiarly rigid condition we’ve noted. The wife is elaborately bound with silk cord in knots that more properly belong in a BDSM club. It would have taken half an hour or more to tie those assuming she held still and cooperated; impossible if she fought. She was also left lying where she fell.”

“The killers didn’t have half an hour. They had fifteen minutes total.” Lestrade consulted his notes. “Well, sixteen if you want to be precise.”


“I told you coming in. Locked house – everything latched and locked from the inside, deadbolt, chain on the inside. All the windows latched. Constables had to break in. Impossible timeframe – the house has an alarm system that went off at the central monitoring station at 7:15 exactly, though why it went off when the doors were apparently not opened, we have no idea. The home unit doesn’t seem to have gone off at all and there’s no sign of forced entry. The first police car arrived at 7:31. Arriving constable saw someone at the window. This was followed by two immediate sharp bangs, like firecrackers going off; constable is sure they were not gunshots. You’ll note that there are no firecracker scorch marks anywhere in here, or in the back garden. Upstairs is being checked, but so far not there either. Arriving constable either doesn’t know anything about approaching a house with possibly armed perps and/or a hostage situation, or completely forgot it in the heat of the moment. He rings the bell polite as anything, knocks on the door, looks in the window, sees Victim One, heads back to the car to report, and gets sick halfway down the front path.” He looked up from his notes. “Arriving constable is going right back to the Academy for retraining if I have anything to say about it.”

“Nobody goes in or comes out after the constable arrives, he’s sure about that. Uniformed backup spent some time surrounding and loud hailing the house and all that, then broke in the door, found both bodies, did a quick check to make sure the house was otherwise empty, and then kicked it over to the plainclothes side. Senior detective here is only a DS, he kicked it further up to the county office, who kicked it over to the Met, and that’s me.”

By the time he was done with that, Sherlock was on his feet and inspecting the bloody letters on the wall. He touched the writing on the T lightly to see how tacky it was, and took samples both for the police and for himself. Interesting. A tad Manson-esque in appearance, but not at all the same technique. Not painted on, there are no drips. The letters almost look stencilled. Odd calligraphic font, somewhat antique. “You’re going to take the whole wall panel for testing, of course?”

“’Course. And the carpeting along with the bodies. It’ll be the easiest way to move them.”

“She’d probably have a cow over it,” said Sherlock, glancing down at the woman’s body. “House-proud, the place is more like a museum than a home. Convenient for us, of course. It’ll make it easier to see what’s out of place.”

“How do you know –“

“Something else will be out of place? There always is.”

The living room was really two-thirds of a single “great room” or “open plan living area”. The other third was occupied by an ornate imitation antique dining room set, with entrances onto a kitchen and a glassed-in patio. Through the glass panels, it was obvious that the back garden was as immaculate and over-groomed as the front, and undisturbed. Sherlock took two steps into the kitchen, and pointed. “And there we have it. Something out of place.” A brown leather-look folio lay in the middle of the kitchen floor. “Strangers break into the house, the husband is waving his shotgun about, and instead of going for the phone to call the police, she grabs – that. The intruders made her drop it when they dragged her into the living room and then ignored it themselves as inconsequential. But why would she want it?” An evidence marker and two photos later, he picked the folio up and flipped through it. Clear plastic pockets containing business cards for reference, the usual – plumbers, electricians, painters, gardeners, auto mechanic, hairstylist, physician, physician, physician, solicitor – criminal defence? The last page had only one card. Sherlock read the front and back carefully, then carefully tugged it out, replacing it with yet another evidence marker. Business card cut slightly larger than normal, heavyweight paper, not standard cardstock. Offset print on the front. ‘Dolores Jane Umbridge. Senior Undersecretary to the Minister.’ Doesn’t say Minister of what, though. Definitely not a government-issue card. And on the reverse, handwritten in pink ink, with a fountain pen, no, a calligraphy pen with a non-standard nib, ‘Tear to Contact’. The card got its own evidence baggie. “Be very careful with that.”

The living room was now occupied by the gurneys which had been brought in from outside, and the body-removal people were cutting the bloodied patches of carpeting around both bodies so they could insert them, carpet and all, into body bags on the gurneys.

Not feeling it necessary to go back through the crowded room, Sherlock kicked off his soiled shoe covers and left the kitchen via the door into the front hall.

The boot cupboard was now open, and several pairs of garden wellies and a pile of cleaning supplies were just to the right of the door. The lower half of a female forensics tech protruded from the cupboard; her torso was twisted so she was facing up at the bottom of the stairs that formed the ceiling. “Inspector! I think there’s something you should see in here!” came her muffled voice from inside the cupboard itself.

Lestrade knelt beside her and tapped her on the knee. “Take a picture. I doubt the rest of us can get in there.” He was still holding the photographer’s digital camera, and passed it in to the tech along with a ruler and a sticky-backed evidence tag. There were a few flashes, and the camera reappeared at the cupboard entrance in the young woman’s hand. Lestrade looked at the pictures on the camera. “A couple more, if you would? John?” John passed her his cell phone, and the tech took a few more pictures with it. “Now just hang on there, I’ll get the other camera …”

“Oh, it’s quite cosy in here. No rush,” came a cheerful voice.

John and Sherlock examined the pictures on John’s phone, and looked at the ones on the police camera while the DI went to locate one of the film cameras. On the bottom of the third step, behind a loose veil of cobwebs, there was writing clumsily executed in blue finger paint, with a multi-coloured frame around the words. HARY’S ROOM, it said. On the right side of the frame was a small child’s handprint in red paint. Hiding it. Wanted to claim the space, but not have it be easily seen. Sophisticated thinking, for a child that young. Is the name really HARY or is it a misspelling of HARRY?

“What do you think?” asked John. “Kid taking over the cupboard as personal play space? Am I going to be finding signs saying ‘MANDY’S PLACE’ in the closet in a few years?”

“Possible. Not enough data. Do we know what the son’s name is yet?” he asked Lestrade as the DI returned.

“It’s Dudley!” came the voice from inside the cupboard. “It was on some pictures in her wallet.”

“Promote her,” Sherlock told Lestrade, pointing at the protruding legs. Then he knelt abruptly and looked closely at the floor where she was lying, and the back of the cupboard door. “And after she’s done, get someone in here with the Luminol. Floor, walls, door.

“You think the killers hid something in here, maybe?”

“No, there’s nothing fresh, but there might be something very old,” he said as he stood.

“If it’s old, would it be connected to this?”

“We can’t tell unless we check it, though, can we?” This whole thing had become most marvellously intriguing. Was the message on the wall left for Dudley, or this Hary or Harry? Harry Dursley? Harry Something Else? “Do we have anybody upstairs yet?”

“Anderson and his team,” said Lestrade.

“I can only hope they haven’t trampled all over everything important,” said Sherlock.

“At least he’s less argumentative than he used to be. Go on up, I’ll finish down here. And get started on locating Dudley and this Harry character.”

Sherlock walked slowly up the stairs, inspecting the gallery of family photos hung on the wall as he went. Mother, father, son. No sign of another child. Unless he was the one holding the camera? John followed, stepping carefully so as not to drop dust and cobwebs on the young tech who was still in the cupboard below the stairs.

The upper floor of the house had a bathroom ( nothing interesting ) and four bedrooms of various sizes. The two that faced the street were, in Sherlock’s opinion, the least likely to be of importance, so he only gave them quick glances before moving on. He pushed open the first. Guest room, even more hideous wallpaper than the rest of the house, hasn’t been used in at least three years, boring. The room across from it was already open. Master bedroom, signs of interrupted dressing, man’s wallet and keys on dresser, open shotgun case on the floor, boring.

The two rooms at the other end of the hall, overlooking the back garden, had more privacy and were more likely to contain something unusual. One of the doors was open, flashes from inside the room indicating that a photographic team had beaten him to the punch. Sherlock stood in the doorway, his eyes flicking around the room. Bedroom, practically a shrine. Furniture sized for an adult, décor says young man. Outdated computer system, neat stack of computer games, none current, school boxing trophies on the bookshelves, but no books. Posters removed from the wall but not replaced. He stepped into the room briefly and looked more closely at some framed clippings on the wall. Articles tracing the semi-professional boxing career of one Dudley Dursley, ending thirteen years ago. Closet and dresser both empty. “The son’s room. He moved out long ago, but his mother refused to accept it and has kept his room ready ever since, just as it was when he finished school and left home.”

Sherlock stepped out and John darted in to grab a few quick shots. Meanwhile, Sherlock watched the forensic technicians edging past each other out in the hall. As Anderson went past him, he reached out and tapped him on the shoulder.


“Lestrade said to search everything top to bottom, did he not?”

“Yes, so?”

“So how many times are you going to walk past that door?”

“It’s the bathroom. We already did that.”

“No, the very odd door next to the bathroom.”

Anderson just looked puzzled; Sherlock expected that. So did John. Sherlock did not expect that .

Sherlock took one step to cross the hall and tapped his fingertips on the door in question. Solid-core door instead of the hollow-core doors used elsewhere on this floor. Five deadbolts on the outside, all locked. Doorknob installed with the lock on the outside instead of the inside. Hinges switched to the outside. Cat-flap installed by a poor craftsman at the bottom of the door. A bolt on that as well. “ This isn’t a bedroom door. This is the door to a prison cell. You really didn’t see it?”

Anderson shook his head dumbly. “Just a blank wall, I swear.”

“I didn’t see it either,” John said. “It wasn’t there.”

Sherlock removed his hand from the door.

“… and now it’s gone again,” said John.

“What’s gone?” asked Anderson.

“’Curiouser and curiouser,’”said Sherlock.

Sherlock’s fingers touched the door again, and gasps and mutters from the crowd now packing the upstairs hall proved that the door was visible to them again. He slid his fingertips gently down the painted wood, maintaining contact with it as he undid each deadbolt from top to bottom. Then he twisted the doorknob, found it locked as well, not that he was surprised by that at this point, and unlocked it. He wasn’t sure what he expected when he finally opened the door. It could be anything. Chains and shackles. A cage. Even the desiccated corpse of a prisoner ignored for fifteen years or more. He really, really hoped it wasn’t the child. Hary. Harry. Whatever its – his, most likely – name was. Cases like that were the worst, and in this case, he couldn’t even have the satisfaction of seeing the perpetrators imprisoned. Because they were already, horribly, dead, and he was supposed to be finding out who killed them.

He turned the doorknob and swung the door open. A rush of hot, stale air, scented with the odour of roasted dust and overtones of teenage male, issued from the opening. But no scent of death or rot. That was a good sign, one of the few they’d encountered so far. “John. Can you see into this room?”


“The rest of you?”

There were multiple variations on “yes”.

“Good. Somebody make sure that door does not close again. Take it off the hinges, if you have to. I want John and the photographer in here. Nobody else yet.”

He took one step in and began inspecting the virgin crime scene. Crime scene? Yes, the condition of the door and the bars on the window said it was definitely a crime scene, even if the crime was committed years ago. He turned in place, noting the major items . Cheap chipboard wardrobe. Window with bars mounted into the frame. Child’s desk, corkboard mounted on the wall. Bookshelf, empty, probably liberated from a rubbish tip. Trundle bedframe with link spring support and cheap mattress. Intended for temporary use but obviously used on a daily basis over a period of time. Cheap, threadbare sheets, not matching, thin blanket, bed neatly made. Pulled away from the wall at an angle. Why?

He directed the photographer (and John) to take pictures of the bed in place, then tugged it away from the wall. Aha. A loose plank in the floor. Scratches on the floorboards around it indicate it was pried up and replaced multiple times. A hiding place, then. The only place this child could have kept anything he considered private. It’s out of place now, though. He carefully removed the board, which came up to reveal a surprisingly large space between the floor joists. Mostly empty. Crumbs, a few very old candy beans – probably a food stash, not uncommon for neglected children – a feather? No, a cut quill pen. Trimmed with a knife the old way, before metal nibs became available. Right-handed user. Black, probably from the right wing of some species of corvid. Dried ink on the tip. Feather is dried out, several years old, but not antique. Very curious.

Carefully, he placed each item in bags, getting samples, and then, remembering the writing in the cupboard downstairs, turned the board over to see if the child had put his name here, too. And froze. The bottom side of the board was covered with curious, angular symbols. Faint parallel lines drawn in pencil with the aid of a straightedge, but not a ruler – regular distances weren’t measured out, this was eyeballed. Symbols neatly drawn between the lines with black ink, using an irregularly-tipped pen. The quill? Most likely, but test the ink to be sure. “John? I need you to look at this. And bring your camera. Quickly!”

He tilted the board so John could get a clear shot. “It’s the Blind Banker all over again!” he said enthusiastically. “Though hopefully we won’t need two entire libraries to decipher these.”

John smirked at Sherlock. It was rare that he got one up on the detective, and he was going to enjoy this. “Nope. Only one book. And I have a copy of it at home.” John turned the board around so it was ‘right edge up’ in his estimation. “These are Dwarven Runes. Created by Professor J. R. R. Tolkien for his books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings . The ones they made the movies from.”

Sherlock looked blank.

The Hobbit , starring Daniel Radcliffe as Bilbo Baggins, Christopher Lee as Gandalf and Jeremy Irons as Smaug? The film series that made Radcliffe a star? Lee's last great role? Okay, when this is over, we’re going to spend some quality time with the DVDs.” John was a voracious reader of anything and everything, a habit he’d picked up in Afghanistan, where the few books people brought with them had been passed around and read and re-read during the long periods of boredom in between the short periods of panic. These days he had an e-book and was a regular patron of the library, or else the Watsons’ book shelves would have made Sherlock’s overflowing ones look positively austere. Of the books that he did keep in hard copy, the Tolkien books, in leather-bound editions, took pride of place and were well-thumbed. He was almost as fond of the films.

“When were these books published? And the films?”

“The book was World War Two-ish, I think. The Lord of the Rings movies were what, twelve, fifteen years ago now? And they just finished the Hobbit series last autumn.”

“So the child who lived in this room may have been familiar with the books but not the films, depending on when he left. A reader, unlike everybody else in this house.”

“Conveniently for us, there’s an appendix in the back of the Lord of the Rings that shows the Dwarven Runes and their English equivalents. They were used as an alphabetical substitution cypher in the illustrations for the books.”

“I’m not sure that’s an alphabetical substitution,” said Sherlock, contemplating the Runes, “unless it’s for a very strange language indeed. Let’s see if there are more. We need a larger sample.”

Once they started looking for them, they found the Runes and some other odd symbols all over the place, scratched ( drawn with a stylus, not inked ) into the white paint on the door frame, the window frame ( signs of significant repairs to this wall; the window frame is newer than the other woodwork in the house – additional scratches on the window frame look like some kind of animal claws – a bird? – four talons, two facing front, two to the rear – some sort of raptor – marks from several animals of different sizes, not just one ), and the inside of the bed frame. Somebody out in the hall spotted a set of Runes on the back of the door which had been removed and was leaning up against the wall; these Runes circled around a spectacular seven-circle classical labyrinth. Fingerprint powder made all the designs and claw marks easily visible, and copies were made for Sherlock as well as for the police. The printing powder also showed a smudged line running between the lines of the labyrinth from the opening at the base to the centre.

The rest of the room had its own clues, though nothing quite as intriguing as the Runes. Wardrobe empty except for one greyish gym sock belonging to an extremely overweight teenage male. A collection of biros with no ink and pencils worn down to nubs – sharpened with a knife, not a pencil sharpener – in the top desk drawer, but the other drawers empty except for dust and a few shreds of paper. Traces of white paint on the tips of the biros. The knife is not in evidence. Nothing pinned to the corkboard, although holes and gouge marks show that it was used in the past. A dozen push pins neatly arranged in the upper right corner, organized by colour. A lucky technician found a calendar from 1995 that had fallen down behind the desk. Days of the summer holidays, starting with June 22, were crossed off. The last day crossed off was August 1. The only other note on the calendar was September 1, where “Escape from Durzkaban!!!” was written in the square in blue ink, probably from one of the expired biros. Durzkaban? Unusual word, comprehensible from context, but etymology of the –kaban element unclear.

The tossing of Number Four, Privet Drive was finished as far as Sherlock and John were concerned by early afternoon, though the forensics teams would be labouring far into the night. Lestrade approached them as they left the house. “Okay, next steps. My teams are going to canvass the neighbours – maybe find out more about the missing upstairs tenant. Don’t know if it’s relevant, but if he came back …”

“After twenty years? Doubt it,” said Sherlock. “He wanted to escape, and escape he did.”

“Yes, well, maybe that message was for him – maybe trying to lure him out of whatever hole he hid in. I’ve got people checking the Registry, but maybe somebody here remembers him. The bodies have been transferred to St. Bart’s for autopsy. I was thinking you could maybe go and observe that, and start work on your samples there. Or accompany the canvassing team. Or go do something mysterious which won’t make any sense to me until later, at which point it will become obvious. Your call.” A series of beeps came from John’s pocket. “Speaking of calls…”

John checked the texts. “Okay, my wife has checked the Registry. Vernon and Petunia Dursley have one son, Dudley, born June 23, 1980, still living, not married. Vernon had a sister, Marjorie, never married, died three years ago, COD was heart failure. Petunia had a sister, Lily – she and her husband James Potter died on the same day, October 31, 1981, no cause given, oddly enough. They had a son, Harry James – Harry seems to be his full name, not a nick – born July 31, 1980. Harry Potter is a fairly common name, and Mary’s found at least six of them already, so no idea if he’s married, alive, or dead. Still checking to find the right one.”

“How the hell do you get that info before we do?” asked Lestrade.

“It’s all in the public records, and Mary started looking before your people did,” said John with a shrug. “Since today is this Harry Potter’s 35th birthday, I think we know who the ‘Happy Birthday’ message was for.”

“But were the murders intended as a gift or a threat?” mused Sherlock. “John, you go to the post-mortem. Bring the sample box. I’ll accompany the canvassers for a bit and join you there later.”

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Author Notes:

Since the Harry Potter movies were never made in this universe, and Martin Freeman was busy being John Watson, I gave Dan Radcliffe the career-boosting role of Bilbo Baggins.   I think he'd have made a good Bilbo, don't you?

Edit: And I just changed it so Christopher Lee played Gandalf. He knew Tolkien personally, and supposedly Tolkien wanted him to play the role if they ever made a movie of it. So that's the way it happened here. R.I.P. Sir Christopher.