The Lightning Letters II: Internal Affairs, Part 2.

"Well," said Roy, an unhappy look stretched across his face. "I think the first thing to do is- is to see if she's actually passed away."

Iris looked at Roy expectantly, but he didn't seem to be moving.

"Let me," Alan said, purposefully. He strode towards the body. Then he quickly kicked Hepburg's leg with his foot.

"Well," he said. "She's definitely dead."

"DAD!" Iris hissed, utterly mortified. This was worse than the time she had brought Richard Scarsborough home (against her better judgement) and he had climbed out of the kitchen window in an attempt to run away from her parents, the insinuating questions and her mother's home-made magical banana cake.

"Well, first things first, we'd better contact both the Crimes Committee, as well as the Muggle police," Mr Henderson said.

"But Dad!" Iris exclaimed. "She was still a member of the magical community... shouldn't we just deal with it ourselves?"

"Iris," Alan said. "I hate to break it to you like this, but Muggles are ever so much better at this sort of thing. They have these machines, all this equipment! They do something with a thing called NDA and find the perpetrator in ten minutes flat! Whereas we... well, take away any magical ability, and most of us wouldn't be able to find our way out of a paper bag."

"I would!" said Iris, hotly.

"Yes dear," Alan said, in a tone that, until this moment, had been reserved exclusively for his wife.

"But... what if they find something... untoward? Something that can't be explained?" Roy asked.

"Oh, they know all about everything already," said Mr Henderson. "At least, the high-up policemen do. They just do us a kindness and pretend not to. It's very sweet of them, really. On top of that, you really do get a terrible headache if you're Obliviated too many times. I suppose they get sick of it after a while, and pretend not to notice things."

Iris gaped.

"No, they'll send a person or two over from the Crimes Committee to liase, but you mark my words, it'll be the Muggles who solve it."

Detective Spencer was a short, burly man in his mid-fifties, with a very world-weary expression and a South London accent.

"Right," he said, as he entered. "What do we have here then?"

"A dead body," Alan supplied helpfully.

"She's- well, she was- Rena Hepburg," Iris said.

"Did you know her?"

"Oh no, not really... that is to say, we'd only met yesterday. But we thought she'd- she'd taken something from a museum I work at, and so we came round to confront her. Only... well, she was dead."

"Hmmm," Detective Spencer said, giving Iris a sharp look. "And you had nothing to do with her death, is that right?"

"Oh no!" Iris exclaimed, horrified. "Of course not!"

"Er... I didn't either," Roy said.

"Nor me," Alan chipped in helpfully.

Detective Spencer rolled his eyes slightly. "Alright," he said. He reached into pocket and brought out a small square thing Iris knew was a 'puter. "I need to take your names and addresses, please."

Just then however, two wizards, both slightly out of breath, appeared with a pop in the middle of the living room.

Detective Spencer blinked. Everybody looked at him, frozen.

"Oh," he said. "It's one of those, is it. Just keep your hands to yourself, you lot. I ain't seen nothing and it's going to stay that way, all right? My head's been messed up quite enough already today, thank-you very much. Now, I've got quite a few questions to get through. The quicker we start, the quicker we end."

Despite apparently starting quickly, the questions went on for some time. Iris, Roy and Mr Henderson were asked over and over about their reasons for being there, and what exactly was their relationship was to the dead woman. Detective Spencer produced another 'strange looking machine thing' (as Will would have called it) and passed it over the body. Apparently, it said, Hepburg had died sometime in the last four hours. As Iris remarked later, it was just like magic. When this was ascertained, they were all asked what they had been doing that morning. It was quite obvious that the Muggle policeman was very suspicious of them, and the Crimes Committee personnel much less so. They had obviously heard of Iris and seemed much more willing to cut them all some slack. After some whispering in the corner between both Detective Spencer and the Committee representatives, they were told that they would not need to come to the station. Detective Spencer looked rather put out by this, but he grudgingly took a scraping of skin from each of them and told them not to leave the country any time soon.

When Iris finally got back to her flat, she was absolutely exhausted. Mr Henderson and Will tried to cheer her up, but it wasn't working. She hadn't really known Rena Hepburg, and didn't think she was at all pleasant, but she was really very shocked that she was dead. It had obviously been a murder, and Iris hadn't heard of such a crime being committed in the Magical community for years.

On top of this, although she felt slightly guilty for thinking it, she knew that her book, and all her research was no good now. She was quite positive that Hepburg had stolen the Lightning Letters. Such a crime involving such artefacts was really quite inconceivable, as everything from the Dark Age was always treated with such reverence. Most of the basis of her research had come from performing different spells on the letters. Without them, nothing could be proven. The Crimes Committee had told her they were investigating the theft, but she could see from their faces that they didn't hold out much hope of recovering them. She still planned to go the Museum the next day however, to see what was going on.

"Well, at least they can't try to pin the murder on any of us," Alan said to her, breezily. "Will can vouch for you, Iris, and both Roy and I were at work."

"Yes," Iris muttered. "But that's not much of a consolation, really."

"Good evening, Miss Henderson." There were two men on her doorstep. "I'm Lawrence Smith, from the Crimes Committee. This is my associate, Daniel Partridge. May we come in?"

"Of course," Iris said, slightly flustered. She glanced at Daniel Partridge; there was something familiar about him, somehow. She opened the door wider to admit them. "Royal Deayton is here too, if you need to speak to him."

"That's very helpful," Smith said. He followed Iris into the living room, where Roy was sitting. "This is just an informal visit to tell both of you that you've both been officially removed from the Suspects list. As has your father, Miss Henderson. All of your alibis check out, and the Muggle police didn't find signs of any of you on the victim's body."

"That's a relief," Iris said, and Roy nodded in agreement. "But do you have any fresh leads?"

"I'm afraid not," Smith said. "It is quite obvious that the victim was strangled, but it certainly wasn't done magically. The marks around her neck could almost be seen to be fingers, but they're much too long really. Both the Committee and the Muggles are favouring some kind of rope, at the moment. I'm certain you'll be kept up to date if any progress is made."

"If you think of anything else," added Daniel Patridge, "here's my card. Please don't hesitate to get in touch."

Iris looked at the card. It was round and read 'Daniel Partridge: Crimes Committee, Room 711.' This finally jogged her memory.

"Daniel Partridge... I thought I recognised the name!" Iris said. "My father's mentioned you." Then she frowned. "But I thought- I thought you worked on the Committee for Foreign Diplomacy."

"Indeed I did, Miss Henderson," the man said, looking faintly puzzled at her question. "But I was recruited to the Crimes Committee several months ago. Do tell your father to get in touch with me. I haven't seen him ages. We've both been too busy, I'd imagine!"

Iris's stomach dropped. "Yes," she said, hollowly. "Yes, of course I will."

The two men nodded, and Roy jumped up to show them out, giving Iris a worried glance. Iris felt frozen. She fell back onto the sofa, and sat there.

"Whatever's the matter?" Roy asked, as he came back into the room.

"When we met my father the other day, he said he was going for lunch with Daniel Partridge, didn't he?" Iris said. "But he couldn't have done- because my father was at the Committee for Foreign Diplomacy Offices, where Partridge hasn't worked for ages."

"That's right," Roy said, his brow furrowing. "But- Partridge said that he used to work there, and he knew your father who he hasn't seen for months... that's an easy mistake to make!"

"No," Iris said, thinking hard. "He said he'd talked to Partridge, but that Partridge was too busy for lunch... dad was lying."

"But Iris..."

"...And when Hepburg accosted me on the street," Iris continued, "Dad said, didn't he, that they weren't lies if they could be proven. And then he asked me about seeing the Lightning Letters. But he didn't even know what she was talking about! I hadn't even told him about my research... but someone else obviously did." She stood up, furious. "How could I have been so stupid? I'm going to see him, right now!"

"Iris, wait..."

But with a pop, Iris was gone.

When Iris arrived at her house, she found her father in the kitchen, tinkering about with bits of china. She actually felt sick. How could her father, this cheery, ordinary man- how could he be an entirely different person?

Alan sensed her presence, and turned round, a tea cup in one hand.

"Iris!" he said. "This is a surprise. It's lovely to see you."

"Partridge doesn't work at the Foreign Diplomacy Committee any more," Iris said, trembling very slightly. Her hands were bunched up in fists. "He moved to the Crimes Committee three months ago."

"Ah," said Alan, quietly. There was a silence, as he slowly put down the cup. Then he said, "they haven't updated his file. Sloppy, very sloppy. Or perhaps it was just me. Perhaps my mind isn't what it used to be, after all."

"You knew who Roy was the moment you got there, didn't you?" Iris whispered. "What you said to Hepburg when she slapped me- you knew all about my research, and I know I hadn't told you about it... you're a spy."

Alan opened his mouth to speak, but Iris rushed ahead.

"This isn't the first time, is it?" she asked. "Have you been doing this all your life, Dad? Is this is your bloody job?!"

Alan hesitated a moment too long in answering. That was all Iris needed.

"Does mum know?" she asked.

"Oh yes," said Alan. "Or at least, I believe she does. We've never talked about it." A half-smile crossed his face. "She's a good woman, your mother."

"So you've only been lying to me my whole life!" Iris yelled. "That makes it fine, then!"

"I'm sorry, Iris," Alan said. "I know you feel- betrayed. But I wasn't allowed to tell you- I wasn't allowed to tell anyone! It was to keep you safe, more than anything, darling." He took a step towards her.

Iris stumbled backwards, before finally plucking up the courage to ask the question she knew she had to, but was dreading. "Did you kill her?" she whispered, her voice wavering out of control.

"No," said Alan, forcefully. "No, Iris. I was just sent in to scout out the territory, so to speak. I was the perfect choice- I could get close to you with out raising suspicions."

"But why?!" Iris wailed. "I don't understand!"

Alan sighed. "You don't realise how important your find is, do you?" he said. "Do you actually realise what this means, for all of us? We've built this society up again after the Dark Ages and it's taken us this damn long to recover. Before you were born, when I was a child- it was still such a mess, even then. But we've managed it, and do you know how? All our hard work, all our grit has been based almost solely on the examples set during the Second Uprising. We said to each other, if they can do it, so can we. Now granted, I know we may have our faults. But we are still here, after everything the Dark has thrown at us. We've survived a basic genocide through those damn blood curses, Iris. There are some things we do need to sort out, yes. The almost perpetual state of suspicion, for one. Not to mention the homophobic atmosphere. You know I don't agree with it, Iris- but it's made us stay. It's stopped another Dark wizard or witch from rising. And we are prepared this time, because we can never go back to that. And now you're going to come along and say that not only was the most famous Dark Ages hero gay, but so was the author of the Lightning Letters? Do you know just how many very important people you are going to anger? Hepburg was just the tip of the iceberg."

"I-" Iris's head was spinning. Then she swallowed, eyes flashing. "You're right. I didn't understand that, Dad. But even after what you just told me... I don't care. I'm publishing the book and no-one's going to stop me."

"Of course you are," said Alan, fondly. His voice sounded strained. "You're my daughter, after all."

Iris looked away from him. "I need some time," she said, walking towards the exit. Alan looked stricken, so she reached forward and grasped his hand. "But we'll be alright Dad. In a while, anyway."

She walked out the door.

"I can't believe," Iris said, "that my father is an undercover spy."

"Well," said Roy. "It wouldn't jump directly to mind as his occupation, no."

Iris laughed. It was several hours later and the weight in her stomach seemed to have lessened, slightly. She sighed. "Nothing I thought was true is," she said. "I never actually realised how naïve I was until now. I'm also wondering what else I've got wrong."

"There's one thing," Roy said slowly, kissing the top of her head. "That wouldn't be wrong at all. Would you- would you consider, at all, marrying me?"

Iris snorted. "You're so old-fashioned!" She looked up, resting her chin against his chest. "And why should I marry you?" she asked, teasingly.

"Er," Roy said. "I would have thought that was quite obvious. Because I love you, of course!"

"Really?" Iris murmured. "Because I love you too, you know."

"Well," said Roy, a huge grin breaking across his face. "If that's settled..."

"But we should do the normal old moving in together thing first," Iris interrupted. "Then I'll be able to see if you wash your socks. Then we can talk about marriage."

"Yes dear," said Roy.

"Hello, Miss Henderson," the goblin on the front desk greeted her. Iris raised an eyebrow. He was being very polite today.

This was not normal.

"I expect you've come to view the Lightning Letters," he continued.

"No... I mean yes, but- are you telling me that you've got the Lightning Letters back?" Iris said, incredibly surprised. "But- I thought someone had taken them from Rena Hepburg's house..."

"Oh no, miss," said the goblin. "It was very curious, but they just turned up here earlier this morning, safe and sound. The thief obviously had a conscience."

"But why on earth..." Iris muttered, baffled. "I mean, this is very good for me, and my research, of course- but it still makes absolutely no sense at all!"

"Best not to question these things, miss," said the goblin. "Best to put it all out of your head."

But Iris had a niggling thought, right in the back of her mind. Her gaze strayed down almost involuntarily to the goblin's hand, which was resting on the desk.

To his very long, very strong fingers.

Which, to the best of her knowledge, did not have any fingerprints.

Iris tore her eyes away as quickly as she could, looking back up. The goblin was staring right at her.

"Um," said Iris.

"This is the kind of thing," the goblin said, still staring unblinkingly, "that just cannot be tolerated. Stealing. Especially from the Hogarth Museum. Miss Hepburg was a foolish woman."

"Oh," said Iris, desperately. "I'm sure she was."

"It was rather a blessing to us that something happened to her," he continued. "Figuratively speaking, of course. The honour of not only the Hogarth Museum, but also of the entire race of goblins was at stake, you understand. Although it was a very bad business, of course. It is just interesting that the authorities will never be able to solve this- unfortunate murder."

"Won't they?" Iris asked.

"Oh no," said the goblin. "Of course they won't. Never. Ever."

There was a pause.

"Yes," continued the goblin, breezily. "A rather nasty woman, by all accounts. But a young lady such as yourself, Miss Henderson, of 22a Birks Grove, London, is an entirely different matter altogether. You respect the Museum. You respect its artefacts."

"Oh yes," said Iris. "I certainly do. Yes, indeed."

"We have been watching you. You understand the sanctity of this place. You are polite."

"Am I?" asked Iris, dazedly.

"Of course," said the goblin. He opened a drawer in the desk, and pulled out a stiff piece of paper with a flourish. "Which is why we have come to the decision that you have earned the right to have a Gold Pass. The Museum's wards will be changed to include your magical signature. You will able to enter and exit the museum whenever you wish, without having to sign in. That's how much faith we have in you, Miss Henderson. You are part of the Hogarth Museum's family now. We will always be looking out for you. There are hundreds of us. So really, day and night."

"Well," said Iris, edging towards the door. "That's really very nice of you, but I've really got to go now, and..."

"Day. And. Night," said the goblin.

"Yes," said Iris. "I quite understand. I'll just be leaving..." She stumbled towards the exit.

"Miss Henderson!" the goblin called after her.

Iris froze, then turned round very reluctantly.

"Don't forget your Gold Pass Certificate," he said.

When Iris finally made it out into the street, she realised that she was going to have to tell Roy that the goblins did it. Which they could never tell anyone. Ever. And also, if he saw any strange-looking people with long fingers staring at them from behind corners, he needn't to be too alarmed.

"Hello," Iris said. "It's Iris Henderson."

Iris hesitated, then continued. "I just wanted to let you know- my book is being published tomorrow," She walked nearer, unsure. "Now everyone will know about you, and Harry, and those wonderful letters you wrote to him. I'm sure you'll be getting many more visitors soon. Other than me, I mean."

Draco Malfoy did not move. He would not even look at her, and he had been doing that before, the last few times she had come, even if he would not speak. Then Iris suddenly realised, and it was like a lead weight hitting her in the stomach.

"You don't care, do you?" she said. "I'm sorry- I'm so stupid. You've had 800 years to think it over. Running over and over in your head."

The portrait did not answer.

"And you couldn't waste away. You just couldn't die, like you did in real life. And now there's going to be more people, people who don't understand, and they're going to ask you again and again, about everything, and you won't ever be able to escape it."

A slight flicker of his eyelids.

"Do you..." Iris began, slowly. "Do you want it to be over? I would- I'd do it, for you. I wouldn't mind what happened. I'll do something, if you like."

There was a pause. A very long one. Then-

"Yes," the voice was as cracked as the varnish on the paint, so out of use had it become. "Do it. Burn me... burn me."

Iris swallowed. After a moment, she brought up a trembling wand hand and lifted the portrait off its hook, until it was hovering next to her. She looked at Draco Malfoy. His eyes were closed.

A second later, and he had burst into flames.

Iris was not surprised to find that she was crying. Her gasping sobs echoed, melancholy, in the quiet, confined chamber. She rushed forward and flung open a window, bringing in the breeze, and the light.

And the portrait's ashes were lost to the earth, and the air, and the trees.

By Iris Henderson

Dedicated to the following:

Will, for giving me a clue

Roy, because I love you

The Goblins of the Hogarth Museum, my new extended family


Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, for trying, as, best they could.