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Chapter 10: Crusade
The midwinter sun shone down on the houses lined along the quiet, suburban street. Voices burbled through open windows, birds fluttered among the bare branches of trees that stood starkly against the cloudless blue sky. Halfway down the street one house lay silent; built of red brick and half-hidden by an overgrown garden spotted with colour, it was indistinguishable from the others around it. As the postman made his way up the cobblestoned path, a sense of unease fell upon him. Everything seemed so silent and still; no bees buzzed through the garden; no birds perched in the branches of the trees. Peering curiously through a window as he passed, he saw no signs of life within, just an elderly dog asleep in a patch of sun coming through the window.
He knew the dog; every day without fail it would bark three times as he pushed the mail through the slot, and he waited for the sound as he slid three envelopes through into the hallway.
The dog didn’t bark.
Confused, the postman returned to the window, tapping on the glass. Still the dog didn’t stir. Was he dead? If so, where was Erin, the owner of the house? It was midmorning, and just as sure as the dog barked every day, so Erin called a cheerful thankyou through the mail slot.
It’s probably nothing, the postman told himself, but he couldn’t shake his sense of unease, and after he’d finished his round, he went past the house again. There were still no signs of life, and he knocked hesitantly at the front door. No answer. He peered through the mail slot and recoiled; at the foot of the stairs lay a dead cat, the carpet around it stained red with blood.
“Hello? My name is Andrew Norton, I’m the postman for…No, of course. There’s something unusual about one of the houses on my round…Very unsettling, I’d appreciate if someone could come around and have a look…Seventeen Winchester Drive…Well, you see, the lady at the house is always up and about when I deliver the mail, and her dog always barks, but this time it was dead silent, and…Yes, I understand that, officer, but you see, I peered through the mail slot, worried about her I was…No I wouldn’t normally, officer, but there was a cat at the foot of the stairs…looked like it had been slaughtered, blood all over the carpet…Yes, that would be fantastic if you could have a look, I’ve tried knocking at the door and no response…The car’s here and everything…Thank you, officer, see you in a bit.”
His anxiety slightly relieved, the postman sat down on the edge of the footpath to await the police. The weather had turned; the sky was now an ominous grey, clouds heavy with rain, and a chilly wind swept through, rustling the plants in the garden.
A single patrol car pulled up beside him and he scrambled to his feet, shaking the constable’s hand and repeating his observations from the morning. “…And there’s a dead cat on the stairs, officer, nasty business indeed.”
“Thank you, sir,” the constable said. “According to our records Miss Erin Bickerman lives alone, no kin living close by…It’s the observations of people such as yourselves that help us discover when something’s wrong. I’ll take a look inside, there’s likely to be nothing amiss, but thank you for your call anyway.”
Constable Joshua Parkinson dismissed the postman, logging the details of the callout as he approached the front door. There was something unusual about the place, but he doubted he would find anything out of the ordinary inside.
“Miss Bickerman?” he called, knocking on the door before falling silent, straining to hear a reply. None.
“Miss Bickerman, it’s Constable Joshua Parkinson from the London Police, is everything all right in there?” He tried again.
Still no response, and Constable Parkinson tried the door; it was locked, as expected. He took out a laser pen and seared the lock off, swinging the door open and stepping inside.
The smell of death hit him; the cat the postman had described was lying at the foot of the stairs, blood spattered for several metres around it. Feeling uneasy, Parkinson took out his iContact, preparing to call for backup if necessary, and proceeded through the house. “Miss Bickerman?” he called again, walking through the kitchen. It was immaculate; Erin Bickerman must have cleaned up last night before going to bed, and she hadn’t been up since then. Parkinson saw the dog the postman had mentioned; it was dead, but it appeared to have passed peacefully in its sleep; it was certainly not a young dog. But two animals dead, and no sign of the owner…It was too much of a coincidence for Parkinson, and he called the station as he strode up the stairs.
“Hunter? Parkinson here. I’m at an address belonging to a young woman living alone, just looking for her now but there are two animals dead at the address, bit too creepy for my liking. I’d like you to have a couple of patrol cars and an ambulance on standby in case I find something…Oh my holy God.”
“Potter!” Dean Thomas called, striding into the Auror Office. “Bad news, I’m afraid. Do you remember a young woman called Erin Bickerman?”
Harry squinted at Dean. “Late twenties, living alone, half-blood witch working as a primary school teacher at a Muggle school?”
“That’s the one,” Dean confirmed. “She’s just been found dead in her home.”
“Very.” Dean’s voice dropped as he gave the details of the case. “No sign of forced entry, the house was still locked, except for an unlocked back door. We’ve got a dog dead of apparent natural causes—”
“We all know what that means,” Harry muttered.
“Yes, but it doesn’t seem as clear-cut as that. The dog was old. Very old. There was a cat slaughtered on the stairs—stabbed—and the woman was stabbed as well. Name me one case involving Dark wizards where they killed with a knife, Harry.”
“They left the knife in the room.”
“What other details are there?”
“Her bedroom door was closed, and she was inside. On the door was a large wooden cross. Nailed. Carved into it were the words ‘God Has Judged.’”
Harry sucked in his breath. “That’s even worse than Dark wizards. How did they know she was a witch?”
“I don’t know,” Dean said, spreading his hands in confusion, but Harry was already striding out of the office.
“Find your Muggle police uniform and meet me back here in twenty minutes.”
An hour later Dean and Harry climbed out of a ‘borrowed’ police car outside Erin Bickerman’s address. A number of police officers were at the scene and an ambulance has just left.
“Good evening, constable,” Harry greeted the first officer, extending his hand. “Detective Inspector Harry Potter, and this is my assistant, Constable Dean Thomas.”
“Constable Joshua Parkinson, sir. I was the one who discovered the body.”
“What do we know?” Harry asked conversationally, strolling alongside the constable as they followed the cobblestoned path to the front door.
“Looks like the work of a religious cult. There was a wooden cross nailed to the door of the room that contained the deceased, engraved with the message “God Has Judged.” The deceased appears to have died of multiple stab wounds, and the knife we believe to be the murder weapon was left on the floor.”
“Tell me about the dog,” Harry said.
“A dog that appears to have died of natural causes?”
“Oh, yes, the dog. We haven’t done an autopsy of it, but the most likely explanation is that it died in its sleep before the murder took place.”
“May I see it?”
Seeming a little confused, the constable led Harry and Dean through into the kitchen where the dead dog lay.
“If you’ll excuse us,” Harry said, and the constable left the room.
“You don’t want to see the body?” Dean asked in a low voice.
“Not yet. It seems pretty clear-cut, apart from this dog. Would you say it looks like an Avada Kedavra?”
“Could be,” Dean conceded, peering at the dog, “Mind you, it’s a pretty weird position for a dog that’s just been cursed to be in. He looks like he’s just fallen asleep. It could be a coincidence.”
“Could be,” Harry agreed, glancing over his shoulder, taking out his wand and quickly casting a spell. “But Dumbledore told me when I was sixteen that Dark magic leaves traces.”
“And nothing,” Harry muttered, frustrated. “Nothing. The dog died naturally. There’s no trace of Dark magic. Which means our work here is done, and a report will have to be made to the Ministry. A hate attack on a wizard by a Muggle—we haven’t had one of those in two hundred years.”