Fifteen - New Arrivals

"I must say, I wasn't expecting such a large welcoming party," said Director Vance as a form of greeting. "From what I've been told, it's difficult for you to get out anymore."

"Couldn't let anyone keep me from an opportunity to see Mrs. Vance," said Gibbs smoothly, taking the woman's bag.

"Always such a gentleman, Gibbs," said Jackie with a smile.

"Don't let him fool you, Jackie," Vance cautioned in good humor.

"Let me take that for you, Director," Tony volunteered, reaching for Vance's large, wheeled suitcase.

Vance relinquished control of his bag to Tony before addressing the others. "Agent David. Dr. Mallard," he said pleasantly. "Where are McGee and Scuito?"

"They're double checking everything in the room we got booked for you," Gibbs supplied.

"Pleased though I am to see you, Director, I must ask, where is Mr. Palmer?" Ducky queried. "We had been informed he would be joining you."

"Got off the plane and said he had to hit the head," said Vance. "For all I know, he might have gotten lost and ended up on a plane to Moscow."

"He does lack a good sense of direction," Ducky conceded.

"Agent Gibbs," said an unhappy voice.

Gibbs turned to look at who had addressed him. "Really?" he queried. "Took you that long to relocate us?"

"Director Vance, this is John Dawlish," Ziva interjected before the situation could escalate further. "Cornelius Fudge sent him with us to welcome you."

"Escort," Dawlish corrected.

"Mr. Palmer!" Ducky suddenly exclaimed, smile on his face.

"Dr. Mallard!" Jimmy replied, emerging from the crowd. "How have you been? I've got so many things to ask you!" He adjusted his glasses before continuing, "When a body comes in with a triple – "

"Let's get going, shall we?" Vance asked, pointedly cutting Jimmy off.

"What is it you do, Mr. Dawlish?" Jackie asked as the group moved along, Tony and Gibbs shouldering people aside.

"I'm an auror," Dawlish said lowly, looking around suspiciously at every passing face.

"Would you be so kind as to elaborate?" Jackie asked.

Rather than answer, Dawlish locked eyes on a man with a purple shirt and dark green hat.

"You'll have to forgive Dawlish, Mrs. Vance," said Tony apologetically. "We haven't trained him to speak on command yet."

Jackie rewarded Tony's jest with a smile and the group carried on.

The instant Dawlish saw the Vances through the door of the inn at Hogsmeade, he disapparated. The Vances greeted Abby and McGee pleasantly, and Abby gave Jimmy a massive hug upon seeing him.

"Pleasant sort of guy," said Vance dully, nodding to where Dawlish had disappeared and removing his jacket and tie before he began to unpack his bag.

"I'm sure you're aware of how very thrilled the Ministry is to have us at Hogwarts," said Gibbs.

Jackie unzipped one of her suitcases to remove a smaller bag, which she handed to Ziva. "Leon told me you've only gotten to go shopping once, and for a very short amount of time," she said pleasantly. "I took the liberty of picking a few things up for you and Abby."

"Ooooh!" Abby squealed, delving into the bag and pulling out a container of powder. "Is this what I think it is?"

"Powdered Caf-pow," Vance answered. "Not as good as the real thing, but I managed to get them to cough up something."

Abby stuffed the powder into her bag, spewing thanks to the Vances while Ziva calmly picked through the items to separate hers from Abby's.

"Put a bit of your brew in there too, Gibbs," said Vance.

"Mighty kind of you, Director," said Gibbs.

"Scuito, David, DiNozzo, McGee, you'd better head on out of here," said Vance.

"And me, Director?" Ducky asked.

"I feel terribly queasy from the flight," said Jackie with all the skill of a seventh grader in a school musical. "I'd prefer if you stay for a bit."

Ducky grinned at Jackie's mischievous plan, and in gratitude for the chance to simply sit with Jimmy and catch up. "I'm happy to be of service, Mrs. Vance."

"How're the kids?" Gibbs asked once the bulk of his team had departed.

"They're fine," Vance answered. "Just a few weeks ago, we had a visitor for Kayla. Apparently, she's on the list to attend Ilvermorny in the fall. Know the place?" He raised an eyebrow good naturedly.

"Might have heard of it," sad Gibbs with a hint of a smile. "You gonna send her?"

"That's still up for discussion," Jackie interrupted, appearing at her husband's shoulder.

Gibbs bowed slightly and let the subject drop. "You've got your meeting with the Prime Minister on Friday at 0900 hours."

"I know my schedule, Gibbs," said Vance. "Tell me more about this Umbridge woman and the deal with Hogwarts and the Ministry."

Gibbs heaved a sigh and set his weight on the wall as he delved into details.

"Alright," said Tony, looking at his watch. "We've got forty minutes to our curfew. Ziva, you're with me. McGee, find McGonagall. Abby, get back to the room and get ready to make enough noise for all of us, if we're not back in time."

"Perhaps one of us should go with Abby," Ziva suggested.

Tony shook his head. "Umbridge is most likely to be in Dumbledore's office. If that's the case, either you or I will have to draw her out."

"Oh?" Ziva said mischievously. "Have anything in mind?"

Tony smiled. "I thought I'd let you use your imagination."

Ziva rubbed her hands together as she and her partner began their journey.

"Something's not sitting quite right," Tony said after a moment.

"Perhaps everything would be sitting right if you did some exercise, rather than being on your butt all day," Ziva quipped.

"I mean with Umbridge," Tony said, glaring at his colleague.

"Are you sure?" Ziva asked. "Your belt looks a little tight."

"My belt is fine," Tony snarled.

"So you are trying to start a new trend, is that it?"

"Umbridge has been too quiet about us bringing Vance here," said Tony, deciding to ignore Ziva's jest.

"I'm sure she will not be quiet for long," said Ziva calmly. "Since Mrs. Vance has come along, however, there will not be much she can do. She can hardly expect to keep a mother from her children without some sort of recapitulation."

"Repercussion, Ziva," Tony corrected. "Repercussion."

McGee made his way through the corridors, his heart rate just a pinch faster than normal. Despite having known McGonagall for years, he still found himself intimidated whenever he had to meet with her one-on-one.

He could think of no proper justification for his anxiety. McGonagall had no hold on him, and he knew she thought fairly highly of him. Even so, whenever she turned her focus on him, McGee felt as though he had something to hide, or as though he had been sent to the principal's office.

"Enter," said McGonagall's crisp voice after McGee had knocked.

"Good evening, Professor," said McGee after taking a deep breath.

McGonagall set down her quill and invited McGee to sit in the chair across her desk. "Your director's arrival went smoothly?"

"Yes," McGee answered. "Gibbs and Ducky are with him, Mrs. Vance, and Jimmy now."

"Who did Fudge send to keep an eye on you?" McGonagall asked.

"Dawlish," McGee answered after quickly searching his memory. He had been spared the task of interacting with the auror at all. "Gibbs managed to lose him a few times."

McGonagall looked skyward, exasperated. "Dawlish is exceptionally bright, but he doesn't apply his smarts properly. Alastor frequently complained of his penchant for being distracted by inconsequential things during training."

"Huh," McGee said thoughtfully. "I forgot Moody used to train aurors."

"What do you think drove him to become so paranoid?" McGonagall asked with a shadow of a smile.

"When will Vance be arriving here tomorrow morning?" she asked.

"0715," McGee answered automatically, having committed the schedule Gibbs had written out to memory. "I'll be leaving here at approximately 0630 to meet Gibbs and escort the Vances over."

McGonagall nodded. "I'll be waiting to meet you at the gate when you return. Anything else?"

"No, ma'am," McGee answered.

"Good night, McGee," McGonagall said, picking up her quill once more.

Once McGee had shut the door, McGonagall smiled to herself. No matter how many times it occurred, she was always amused by McGee's slight nervousness around her.

"Jackie, McGee's going to be here any minute," said Vance to his wife through the bathroom door of their room.

"And I've got until then to do as I please," Jackie retorted.

"Jackie – "

"Leon, I will not let that woman find fault with me," said Jackie. As Vance opened his mouth to reply, she spoke again, "And don't you try to sweet talk me out of my mood!"

Vance threw his hands in the air in surrender and walked away from the closed door.

"Happy wife, happy life," said Gibbs with a chuckle.

"'Happy wife' is the tough part," said Vance, straightening his tie. "I don't think you have much room to talk on the subject, Gibbs."

Gibbs shrugged as he laughed again.

A knock sounded, and Gibbs opened the door to admit McGee.

"Morning Boss, Director Vance, Ducky, Palmer," said McGee in greeting. "Ready to go?"

As Vance braced himself to address his wife again, Gibbs began questioning his agent. "Umbridge ask any questions about Ducky?"

"We haven't heard a peep from her, Boss," McGee answered. "Tony thought he and Ziva might have seen her in Dumbledore's office last night, but luck was on their side. None of us have spotted her."

"Dumbledore or McGonagall have anything to say?"

McGee shook his head. "No, they both seem to think things are going about as smoothly as possible."

"You all get back to the room by curfew?"

"Five minutes before, actually," McGee said proudly.

"Good," said Gibbs. "Can't risk pissing Umbridge off any more than necessary."

Jackie finally came out of the bathroom, putting in earrings as she swept across the room to grab her purse. "I'm ready," she declared.

Gibbs held the door for everyone, then took several large steps to walk in line with the Vances while Ducky, Jimmy, and McGee trailed behind.

"So this school we're going to," Jackie began casually, "would you say it's a preview of Ilvermorny?"

Gibbs considered. "I know Hogwarts is the largest magic school, so Ilvermorny's definitely on a smaller scale. I can't tell you much more than that."

"Any of the teachers you know ever say anything about Ilvermorny?"

Gibbs shrugged. "Minerva's said it's a decent place. That's high praise from her, believe you me."

"Minerva's the one that invaded my office, right?" Vance asked.

"Correct," said Gibbs, smiling fondly at the memory of Vance's expression.

"Invaded?" Jackie asked. "I thought you said some professor had just dropped by!"

"I meant 'dropped' literally," said Vance dully.

Gibbs briefly explained apparition to Jackie. By the end of the short speech, her jaw had dropped.

"Do you mean to tell me that I can send my baby to the store for groceries and she can avoid traffic?" Jackie asked. "I'm sold. She's going to that school."

"Well, I'm glad you're on board now, Mrs. Vance," said Gibbs. "From what I understand, things can go sideways real fast if a young witch or wizard isn't trained properly."

"I'd imagine, with magic in the mix, teenage witches and wizards are dangerous whether they're trained or not," Vance quipped.

"All teenagers are dangerous, Director," Gibbs came back with. He nodded to McGonagall as the group approached the gates.

"Careful, Gibbs, or the kids will hear you and think that's a challenge," said Vance.

"I second that caution," said McGonagall as she tapped the gate with her wand and the chains slid away. "You're enough trouble without engaging in competition, Jethro."

"It seems you've possibly come to understand Gibbs as well as I have, Professor," said Vance, extending his hand to her. "Have to say I think the slacks looked better than those robes."

"Professor McGonagall wore slacks?" Jimmy blurted. "How did I miss this?"

Jimmy cleared his throat and looked down awkwardly as Ducky, Gibbs, McGee, and McGonagall all looked at him with raised brows.

"Yes, Director, I think we can exchange condolences with each other for our dealings with Agent Gibbs," said McGonagall good naturedly once Jimmy had been properly cowed.

Vance smiled and chuckled slightly as Gibbs looked skyward. "Professor McGonagall, this is my wife, Jackie. Jackie, Minerva McGonagall."

Jackie was positively beaming upon seeing her first knowledgeable witch, and a teacher, no less. "It's such a pleasure to meet you, Professor!"

"And you as well, Mrs. Vance," McGonagall replied politely, shaking Jackie's hand.

"I'd say that I hope you don't mind being assaulted with questions, Professor, but I'd think you're used to that by now," said Vance as the group began working their way across the grounds. "You were right. We did receive an explanation as to how Kayla turned Jared's teeth purple."

"I, or another professor, will be happy to answer your questions regarding what you might expect for your daughter next year," said McGonagall, "but I think it best I prepare you for Hogwarts before we actually step foot inside." Without further ado, McGonagall began pointing out and explaining numerous things about the grounds and castle while leading the group across the expansive lawn.

"Brace yourselves," Gibbs said quietly as McGonagall opened the main doors. "You're going to see some pretty weird stuff."

Weird was the very sight that greeted the Vances as they got their first look at the entrance hall. Peeves was cackling madly, floating well above anyone's reach. As soon as everyone was through the door, he began pelting small stones at the group.

McGonagall drew her wand in a flash and shielded herself and her charges from any damage.

Gibbs had a smug half smile on his face as he observed the Vances' gob smacked expressions.

"Peeves!" McGonagall bellowed.

"Professor!" Peeves called back without ceasing his assault.

With a quick flourish of McGonagall's wand, all Peeves's ammo flew into her open hand. She examined the stones as Peeves blew a raspberry before swooping out of the hall. "Someone's left their gobstones out," she said with a sigh, pocketing both the stones and her wand. "My apologies for Peeves. He's not usually out so early, but I doubt he could resist causing a scene with your arrival."

"Poltergeist," said Gibbs in explanation as McGonagall continued briskly into the great hall.

"Students will be arriving for breakfast shortly," said McGonagall as the Vances looked around the great hall in fascination. "Professor Dumbledore should be here a few minutes before to meet you. After breakfast, Professor Burbage, our Muggle Studies instructor, will show you around the castle." McGonagall seated the Vances and pointed out the hourglasses keeping score of house points as she began to explain the house system.

Dumbledore came in just as the earliest risers of the students began to trickle into the hall. "Director Vance, Mrs. Vance, welcome to Hogwarts. We're so pleased to have you," he said in greeting.

Vance quickly looked Dumbledore up and down with skepticism etched on his face. Nonetheless, he offered his hand to the headmaster. "Pleasure's all ours, sir."

Dumbledore continued chatting pleasantly with Vance and his wife as the Great Hall slowly filled. His attention was eventually pulled away by Professor Vector approaching him from behind.

"So what d'you think so far, Leon?" Gibbs asked as he prepared a scone for himself.

"School's throwing me for a loop, but I could get used to this kind of breakfast," said Vance appreciatively.

"Watch it, Leon, or you're going to be on the couch tonight," said Jackie.

"That wasn't a complaint against your breakfasts, Jackie," Vance soothed. "You know I like your blueberry waffles better than – "

"Gibbs said you teach Transfiguration, Professor McGonagall?" Jackie asked, leaning past her husband to look at the woman.

Gibbs knew McGonagall well enough to catch the slight hints of her amusement as she answered Jackie. Seated beside the professor and the director, he took a large bite of his scone and, while chewing, flashed an annoying grin at Vance.

"Jethro!" Ducky called, seated between Jackie and Jimmy. "Excuse me, Mrs. Vance, but Mr. Palmer has just been telling me about his visits to my mother, and I think Jethro should hear the next part of his tale, as well!"

"How kind of you to check in on Mrs. Mallard," McGonagall said to Jimmy, who blushed. "I don't recall hearing much about her previously, Dr. M – Ducky."

"Oh, well, she died nearly two years ago," said Ducky. "Mr. Palmer has been caring for her grave since I left to come here."

"Palmer, what am I supposed to hear?" Gibbs asked with a bit of irritation and saving McGonagall from the embarrassment of bumbling over jamming her foot in her mouth.

"Oh, um," Jimmy fumbled. "Well, I hope you don't mind either of the things I'm about to tell you. You weren't exactly around for me to ask. I didn't think you would, or I never would have. Minded, that is."

"Spit it out, Palmer," Gibbs demanded. In his periphery, he could see McGonagall hurriedly reach for her cup of coffee to bury her face in, no doubt to hide her amusement over Jimmy's antics.

Jimmy took a deep breath. "Well, a couple weeks ago, the snow had melted and the ground was soft. I, um… I went to Mrs. Mallard's old house, and the new owners let me dig up a couple samples of her favorite plants. Your house is closer to my apartment than Dr. Mallard's, so I, um…" Jimmy swallowed hard and took another fortifying breath. "I put the plants in your backyard so I could take better care of them." He plowed on quickly, before Gibbs could attempt to interject. "I promise you, as soon as those plants grow and are healthy enough to be left on their own, I will take them from your backyard and make it look like nothing ever happened and – "

"Inhale, Palmer," Gibbs interrupted. "You did good." He nodded in approval.

Jimmy beamed. His smile faltered slightly, however, as Gibbs continued to stare him down. "Agent Gibbs?" he asked.

"You said 'either of the things' before, Palmer," Gibbs explained. "What's the other one?"

Jimmy looked nervous and gleeful at the same time. "Well, I was telling Breena, my girlfriend – Do you remember Breena? – I was telling Breena about how you all were on assignment and that no one was sure when you were going to be back." Jimmy started to talk faster as he went on. "I mentioned to her two weeks ago that I hoped your dad was doing okay getting the store going again. We drove out to Stillwater to check on him. I know that was a major invasion of your privacy, Agent Gibbs, and I'm very sorry for that, but – "

"Palmer," Gibbs said quietly and with some amount of urgency. "I'm not angry."

Jimmy smiled sheepishly. "Oh, good," he sighed with relief.

"How's Dad doing?"

"Well, he said he wished he could hear from you, but he grudgingly admitted that probably wasn't possible," Jimmy answered. "The shop's back to its regular business, though!"

Gibbs nodded, then turned back to his breakfast, effectively dismissing Jimmy, though a slight smile was still on his face.

"Oh, Tony!" said Jimmy, turning to face the other direction. "I saw your dad, too!"

Tony's head whipped up from his food to look at Jimmy with wide eyes. "What was Senior doing in D.C.?"

"Mr. Palmer's a good man," said McGonagall as Tony continued interrogating Ducky's assistant.

"Yeah," Gibbs agreed. "Good heart."

"What happened to your father's shop?" McGonagall asked.

"I told you he stayed with me for a few months," said Gibbs, familiar annoyance beginning to reappear on his face.

"But did you tell her why?" asked Vance with an irritating smirk. He looked past Gibbs to McGonagall. "Jackson's shop was shot up by a Mexican drug lord looking to square some personal issues with Gibbs."

Gibbs put down the silverware he had been preparing to use. "You know what, Leon, I think – "

"Jethro managed to leave those details out of his letters," said McGonagall shrewdly, casting an irritated look at the man in discussion. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I'd imagine he's not anymore forthcoming with details with me than he is with you."

Vance gave an amused snort. "I think you and I are going to get along just fine, Professor McGonagall."

Before Gibbs could attempt to put a wedge between the disastrous alliance forming against him, Umbridge entered the hall in all her pink, frilly rage.

"That's who all the fuss is about?" Jackie asked out of the corner of her mouth.

"Doesn't look like much," Vance agreed lowly.

"Neither does Ziva, to those that don't know her," said Gibbs before Umbridge came into ear shot.

"I see your friends have arrived, Agent Gibbs," said Umbridge.

Gibbs could feel the Vances quickly cover their shock at the disparity between Umbridge's face and voice. "Professor Dolores Umbridge, this is my boss, Director Leon Vance, and his wife, Jackie."

"It's nice to meet you," said Vance pleasantly, having slid into his political personal. He extended his hand to Umbridge, who did not even bother lowering her gaze to it.

"Don't take it personal, Leon," said Gibbs, continuing to stare at Umbridge while Vance dropped his ignored hand. "Professor Umbridge doesn't much care for our being here."

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about, Agent Gibbs," said Umbridge with a wide, froggy, fake smile. "I couldn't be happier."

Vance chuckled as Umbridge walked away. "Could you let go, Jackie? You're gonna give me a bruise."

Jackie, who had been clutching her husband's knee under the table, released her grip to grab her silverware. Instead of using it as intended, she began waving it around as she quietly ranted about Umbridge's behavior.

"Jackie, let's not do this now," Vance suggested lowly, conscious of the students watching.

Gibbs and McGonagall shared a look before returning their attention to their meal.

Author's Note

Next chapter - The Next Level

-checks pulse- Whew! Keeping this pace of writing sure does keep my heart rate up! Here's to hoping I can keep it going. Gotta go, before I lose steam!

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