1995-10-10B: Stacking The Deck


Jack_icon.gif Noble_icon.gif

Scene Title Stacking the Deck
Synopsis Jack brings Bean's letter to his father and the two lions discover hope in the wiles of the snake.
Location Torchwood Manor
Date October 10, 1995
Watch For Awesome father-son dialogue and some great one-liners from Jack
Logger Papa Noble

There's a sharp 'pop' of compressed air as Jack apparates directly into the Manor, lips set in a thin line, a piece of crumpled parchment in his hand. He stalks toward his father with a furious gaze, holding out the parchment in his hand. It's the first time he's seen his father — or at least a single occurence of his father — since that day.

"Did you know, Da? Because if you did, and decided not to tell us…" He'll include the rest of Sir Michael's sons in his hurt and rage. Most of him is certain that the elder man is just as clueless as he is, but he has to be sure. This is how it's done. He starts with the one directly over him, and then moves up from there. Though he's been on his own for years, he's still a Noble child. "Here." He's so angry that all he can do is thrust the worn parchement into the man's hands and wait for it to be taken, then stand back with arms across his chest.

Seated behind his desk in the large office Sir Michael has carved out as a sanctuary in his home, the man himself is buried in paperwork. There are lines on his face that weren't there the last time he saw any one of his children - save Liam - and an almost defeated slump to his shoulders, even as he pours over legislative nonsense that would make the average wizard's head spin. The sharp 'pop' of Apparition doesn't pull his gaze from his work. These wards are old enough and strong enough that if it's not someone already keyed in, there's really not much point in wasting energy on alarm.

Practical man, Sir Michael Noble.

The voice is his son's and the older man settles the paperwork down onto his desk with a heavy thud and a whispered rustle of disturbed parchment. "Did I know what, Jack?" There's a heaviness to his voice that seems to match the slump of his shoulders and the lines in his face. Taking the offered - well, thrust - parchment, he flicks his wand in a subtle and silent spell. One of the more comfortable armchairs moves itself from the rug in front of the fire and spins to face the desk it now rests beside. "Sit." It's a soft-spoken command, but a familiar one. Michael Noble will not be rushed. Now less than ever. He takes his time smoothing out the much-abused letter and then lifts it close enough for slightly myopic eyes to read the unfamiliar handwriting. He reads it once, his pale eyes moving to stare sightlessly into the crackling fire before he reads it again and drops it back on the desk between them. There is a long silence again as Sir Michael braces his elbows on the arms of his chair, interlaces his fingers and braces them against his chin. All angles of this must be considered. "They took her before her NEWTs." It seems this is all he is currently capable of saying and just this short statement sounds harsh and ragged - even to his own ears.

Jack sits. It's an automatic response to his father's calmly spoken command. Something in him loosens, shifts, and relaxes. Some things are the same. "Aye. Few days shy of, if I heard correctly." His arms hang loosely over the edge of his seat, and his language falls closer to the brogue of their region than the dry drawl he uses most of the time nowadays. "I don't know what to think. I have this really vague memory of …" He's not even sure how to word what he wants to say. He was so drunk at the time that reality and fantasy flicker together like two candles stuck together. "She said that, though. That quote." He runs a hand across his face. "Or, at least I think she did." Poor drunk Jack.

There's a flash of understanding in pale eyes, quickly replaced with the mild censure that has made even the most obnoxious Ministry officials quail from time to time. "You think she did." Jack's … behaviour of late has not completely escaped attention, then. Even so, there's no trace of mockery or condescension in those words, simply a request for clarification. Don't mind the lack of questionable punctuation; most things from Sir Michael come as statements. A subtle Gryffindor? Wonders may never cease. "We were told that there was an … incident." Comparing notes and stories on an event that has left the Noble house as hollow and dead as a tomb for months now. "That she had fallen afoul of a highly experimental spell." There's a flash of sharper pain as he continues, but it's quickly stomped on. "Your mother … She demanded that we be allowed to see her." Even now, he cannot speak his baby girl's name; the letter's flicker of hope is far too fragile for that. "But we were told in no uncertain terms that it was impossible for us to do so."

One hand reaches up as if to push through hair that's receeding and too short to push through anyway - it's a gesture he's passed on to at least a few of his children, including the one sitting across from him. "I pushed as much as I could, Jack." And there's some desperation there, a restrained, wordless plea for absolution. "But after the first month it was all I could do just to prevent the Ministry declaring her dead." He lifts his eyes to meet his son's and he looks so much older than his years. "Your mother … " Is furious, convinced he didn't do enough, didn't push enough. "She did not take it well." Especially when the Ministry scuttlebutt started to turn from 'Is she dead?' to 'Poor old fool, can't let go.'

The fury that had surrounded him when he arrived returns, this time lighting Jack's eyes with a cold, biting rage that begins to trickle through him, tighening his muscles and tensing his whole posture. Rigid and rock-still, Jack meets his father's eyes. "I was told she was dead. By a werewolf prostitute I know. Who caught up with me while I was in Romania." It's not intended to be a complaint on his father's actions or lack thereof, but mere commentary on his own experience. "And yes, Da, I was drunk off my arse, but I was aware enough to work. I was removing curses from the paintings from …" He cannot speak the name of the Black house, the Fidelius at work, but he can be clear enough — obliquely — to make his point known. "From the house of a good friend. I've been working through the levels of the house, taking all of them and removing the curses. Picked one up, and another fell against it, and there's my Rosie peeking out from a picture. Or … Well, this is what I remember, Da." He closes his eyes, stroking his face again, hoping to remember more of the memory. "It might help to show you, but I can't guarantee what it'll look like." Memories taken from a mind on 'altering substances' may be pretty odd. He flushes, embarrassed. "I wasn't …" He quails under that censure, and rightfully so.

Mention of his mother has him nodding. "I'll bet she didn't." He's enough of his mother's child that he can empathize. In fact, he does so right now. The anger within is settling, making itself a home. It'll be there a good long while. "I don't blame you at all, Da, and if I know Rosie, she would — won't either." There's enough hope inside his heart that he'll believe. And all of the Noble children know their parents fight tooth and nail for their children. Their bravery may not be of the more flashy sort, but it does exist. And runs deep. "I'll assume that I know who told you you couldn't see her?" He's learned a little about tempering his own 'foolhardy' instincts lately. A little.

And Sir Michael listens patiently to his second-oldest as he explains his earlier statement. He doesn't press that censure any further; he knows he doesn't have to. It is without judgement that he hears this tale - without reaction, even. At least, until Jack mentions paintings. It's as if the word is a switch and suddenly color drains completely from his face. "The paintings," he breathes, knuckles white from his sudden grip on the edge of the desk. "I'd forgotten all about the paintings…" And with that he is standing and moving through the office and out into the hall quicker than he has moved in a very, very long time. He knows the wizarding lore as well as any pureblood would. If her portraits are talking, that means she's beyond any help. Never before in his life had Sir Michael cursed the wisdom and affluence that had allowed his anscestors to build such a large, sparwling house, but he finds himself cursing it now, walking swiftly and with purpose past wide-eyed house elves and somber tapestries. His heels click and echo in the empty spaces and there is a momentary pang at just how empty his house truly is - long gone the days of children underfoot amongst the raucous sounds of laughter.

There! The doors recognize their master and fly open without a touch or a spoken command, leaving the way open for Sir Michael - and Jack, should he follow - to step into the never-used study whose walls hold the paintings of each child and those of the whole family or the family in groups. The family portrait that should have Jackie sitting with baby Siobhan in her arms is noticeably lacking in babe. The one of Sio and Edana the summer before she left for Hogwarts is missing half its subjects. Siobhan's coming of age portrait, done just last year - was it only last year? - is completely devoid of even the silently smiling likeness of his youngest child. And yet … and yet the photographs all still contain the brightly shining Rosie-girl, no matter at which age they captured her. Bracing one arm against the mantel, the Noble family patriarch closes his eyes and bites down hard against a rising tide of his own anger, just as hot and raw as his son's. "Yes," he bites out, answering a question he'd only barely heard. "Who else could offer a smiling tea and candy when he tells us not to worry, that all will be well in time?"

Of-bloody-course, Jack's out of his seat and following his father's quickening footsteps. He's younger and a little more active, so he's not that far behind. It's only deference to his place that keeps the son behind the father, instead of striding past him. He picks up on Michael's train of thought quickly — there isn't a Noble child who is a real slacker mentally (no matter what face they show the world) — and he gazes up at the picture. "I saw her, Da. In a painting. I don't know how in the hell that could happen unless…" He's pacing up and down the long hallway, giving his father the space to do what he needs to do. "You said he said 'an experimental curse'?" Jack sets his mind to working. "Oh, god. That'd be …" He rubs his chin, peering at his father. "That boy's letter. 'The impossible can sometimes happen.' Da, what if…" He's almost got it. Years of things being 'just this way' in the Wizarding world prevent him from going over that line though. But he's damn close. "What if…" No. But… yet.

Coming from a long line of well-meaning but unmistakable aristocratic arrogance - and the distance it forces between loved ones, Sir Michael has always set out to make the bonds in his nuclear family unit strong ones. He forged ties in his middle years strong enough to make up for their lack in his youth, but it comes at a cost. "An experimental spell." And for all the fury bottling up inside him, Michael's voice is hollow. "Jack… Portrait magic isn't meant for a soul." Not to mention the rest of the mind. "It's meant to catch enough ambient magic of the person to whom it was attuned at the moment of death to serve as an echo, nothing more." The level of research this knowledge hints at may very well surprise any of his children. It's not something he shares willingly, though the look directed at Jack shows that he knows he'll end up fielding questions about it now. "I don't know what it would do to a whole soul - no one does - but … " He trails off and the hand braced against the mantel clenches into a fist before he straightens. "Whatever it would do, it would not be good." Pushing away from the fireplace, he scrubs both hands over his face and starts to pace. "How long ago did you see her, Jack?" Now his mind seems to have jumped into overdrive, grasping desperately onto the need to do something so he won't have to examine too closely the flicker of hope in his chest. "And whose paintings were they?"

Jack blinks, the information coming from his father surprising the hell out of him. He can say the name. "Black. Sirius Black." He sighs. "It was …. not even a week, Da. Last Thursday." The frown on his face deepens, and he closes his eyes. "What'll happen to her, Da, if we don't get her out?" It's not a matter of 'if' to him, it's a 'when', but he has to know the worst. "What could be happening to her now?" He crosses his arms again, this time more in self-protection and control than in sheer fury. Oh, that's still present. Just on the back flame. "Worst case."

If circumstances were not so dire, Michael would be tempted to make a joke about a wizarding Bong. Or was it Bond? Siobhan had tried to explain it to him once, but she had been small and he hadn't been paying attention. Even so, the reminder raises a corner of his mouth in an almost-smile. "He would be the logical place to start, then." He doesn't even mention trying to get answers out of Dumbledore. The man's like an iron-clad clam when he wants to be. He opens his mouth to ask more questions, but Jack beats him to it, repeating the one question that eats at his own mind because he cannot answer it. "I don't know, damnit!" He slams his fist down on the mantel, the shock of impact helping him to rein in his flare of temper. "No one does," he adds, much quieter.

A deep breath, then. "A person's soul is … it's the most complex sort of magic, Jack. No one alive would even begin to know how to catalogue or study, not even mentioning replication." It's why the miracle of birth is still such a mystery even among the magical world. "But the magic in the paintings is finite. It has boundaries and it destroys everything that falls outside of them." It's old protection magic, to keep someone from corrupting the magic of the painting and turning it against its 'owner'. "If someone tried to shove something as complex as a soul inside of a portrait … the magic in the painting itself would try to break it down. The soul - especially a magical one - would probably be able to resist for a time, but … " In short, it would tear her soul into itty bitty pieces. He falls back into one of the armchairs by the fire. "What a terrible, terrible spell…" And these words are meant for his own ears, though Jack would have no trouble catching them.

Jack processes his father's words, chewing on the corner of his lip, an expression seldom seen now. He runs his hand through his hair, then drops it, wrapping both tightly around his own frame again. "Dammit." It may earn him more censurious gazes, but he doesn't exactly care at this moment. "We can do that. I can get a hold of him pretty quickly. I …" He frowns. "It shouldn't be a problem. I would feel better if we invited him over here for a meal, though." He snorts with wry laughter, slapping himself on the forehead. "I kept that damn painting. The one I saw her in." He runs his hand across his face again. "I kept the damn thing. She was … doing … something peaceful or …" He can't remember. "So, maybe she'll visit it again?" He assumes, if she's not changed too overly much, the need for solitude will drive her to the cliffside again. "Should I go get it?" He pulls out his wand, ready to apparate directly there and back. It'd only take a couple minutes.

Sir Michael Noble is too lost in his thoughts right now to worry overmuch about his son's vocabulary. There's something niggling at the back of his mind and so he holds up one hand in a silent signal for Jack to wait a moment before doing anything. There's a piece of this puzzle they're missing and it's sitting just out of reach. If he could only…

His head jerks up so quickly that a crack from his neck can be heard in the stillness of the room. A slow, unmistakably proud - and just a little awed - smile spreads across his face. "Jack," he begins quietly, the hope in his chest flaring from a spark into a quiet candle's flame. "What did the first part of that boy's letter ask about?" Rosie's out-Slytherined them all; the family, the Ministry, even the Headmaster. "Before the bit you'd heard before. What did he want to know?"

"She wants us to set up NEWT for her." Jack is … sort of following his father's train of thought right now… He frowns. "What?" He's missing something big. What?" The look on his father's face gives him a little more hope, though. It must be a good thing if it's making him smile now. He allows a half-smile to cross his face, drawing from his father's good mood.

There are still pieces missing from this puzzle and if Sir Michael doesn't miss his guess, there will be pieces missing from it for a very long time. Still, the big pieces - at least the ones that matter to his personal peace of mind - have begun to slot into place with frightening precision. "Think like Siobhan." And since Jack is inarguably the closest of the boys to her - at least as far as Michael knows - it shouldn't be too hard for him. "If she was able to contact this boy to write a letter, why did she wait until now to do so?" He doesn't sound as if he's really lacking the answer, more as if he's posing the question to lead Jack into coming to the conclusions himself. It's an exercise he's perfected over the years with all his children, preferring to challenge them into using their own powers of logic rather than simply divulging information.

"It's easy to forget, sometimes, just where the Hat placed her." The image of Slytherins as a whole is not of the happy, bouncing, energetic, bubbly variety after all. There's a flicker of remembered regret in his expression. Though he had been much more mild, much more restrained - much more willing to 'wait and see' - he too, had dealt with misgivings upon the news of his youngest child's Sorting. "Think, son. Why send this now and with such a request?" An Eagle in Lion's clothing, indeed.

"Because she may have a way out." Jack's smile is more real. "She wouldn't ask for something like that unless…" There's a hint of the old, irrepressible, mischievous child. "Unless she had some way to use the opportunity. I think she probably also wanted to let us know she was alive, and the only way to do that was through this Second Form kid. Think I'll buy that bloke some Droobles, or something." He grins, much more at ease with the situation. "Wonder if I should write him back, or just go get that painting, or both." He speaks the ideas out loud, knowing that Michael will comment if he sees fit. Very like he were still learning from Michael and Edana instead of running his own business. "Sneaky little…" He shakes his head, moving toward his father to grasp him 'round the shoulders and embrace him.

And Jack's irrepressible mischief does much to fan the flame slowly growing to warm his father's cold, empty chest. "She hedged her bets until she felt sure of … something." Just what that might be is a flaw in the suppositions that is easily passed over for now. "Because she wouldn't say until she was sure, and she wouldn't come back without making sure she could move forward." Hence the all-important NEWTs. Sure, there are jobs out there that didn't require them, but somehow the Noble patriarch can't see his youngest content to mind a shop the rest of her days. The more he thinks out loud - rather like Jack in that regard - the more he says it, the more sure of it he is, and so when his son mutters that grumbling endearment for the absent snake and reaches to embrace him, Michael returns it heartily, feeling younger than he has since July. "That child can have whatever he wants!" Michael exclaims in response to the Droobles. Apparently messsengers with good tidings are looked upon very well in such times as these - or maybe it's just an excuse for his paternal generosity. Who knows? "I can find someone to administer the theoreticals on extremely short notice." Time to call in some old markers, perhaps. "But I think you're better connected with the MLE than I am these days." And doesn't that get Jack a wry look. "Can you find one of the Aurors liscenced to administer practicals?" Because the old soldiers tended to be easier to deal with than the beaurocrats. "Someone who'll keep their mouth shut?"

Jack pulls back from the hug, and considers for a moment. "Really?" He's more connected than Da? He snorts. "I probably could, yeah. I know a couple folks. One comes to mind almost immediately. You know old Moody? I don't know if he's still field qualified, but I think he taught DA last year, so damn straight. I bet he could proctor. And you know if someone," well, they both know to whom he refers, but he leaves him unnamed, "were to bother him about it, he'd be more than willing to tell him to — well.." He pauses, unsure if he should finish the epithet in front of his father. "Sit on their wand, so to speak." He snickers, hope making him giddy.

"And I'll reply to this…" He casts his mind back for the boy's name. "This Bean, and offer him something. He's a Snake himself, so maybe a favor kept in reserve." He nods. "That sounds like something he'd appreciate." Now Jack has a List Of Things To Do (tm), and feels much better about the situation.

There's a further upward twitch the corners of Sir Michael's mouth, a mischievous edge to his smile that brings out startling family resemblence between he and his daughter. "Aye, son. I know Alastor." It's hard to spend any time in the Ministry without running into the old bear at least once or twice. He gives Jack a mild 'Look' at the crude imagery associated with his latter statement, but given that the man (privately) is beginning to agree - and finds the sentiments amusing in their own way - he chooses not to comment. For now.

"I'll leave the boy up to you, Jack." Since Jack's the one who was contacted, not him. "But leave his name on my desk?" Michael likes to know things about the people who end up connected with his family - espeically in such a manner as this. He flicks his wand to one side and a small, plump House Elf appears with his formal work robes. A quiet thank you and the elf is disappearing again; Sir Michael glances back up at Jack as he shrugs into the outer garment. "Whoever you get to do it, make sure it's quick and quiet." I.E. Someone who knows how to keep their mouth shut. "I have a feeling this had better stay among the family, for now." And those trusted few not-blood-related who still count. Straightening himself with a muttered spell, Michael takes a deep breath and over the course of blink is Sir Noble of the Wizengamot. One hand is reached out to clasp Jack's shoulder firmly. "Be safe." And then he's gone, the tell-tale crack breaking the ensuing silence.

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