Amelia Bones massaged her temples, not wanting to open her eyes. Being Cornelius Fudge's successor to the position of Minister of Magic was not all it was cracked up to be. Why the man had fought so hard to hold onto the job she didn't know; frankly, if it were up to her she'd be on a beach in Tahiti right now-
Unwillingly, she dropped her hands and looked up. Aloyisius Nacknouck was watching her with a worried expression. The little man was head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures' Spirit Division. She'd seen his signature far too many times of late; half the reports on her desk right now came from his quill.
"Yes, Aloyisius," she said tiredly. "I've read the latest."
"I'm sorry, Madam Minister- it's just-"
"Yes, yes, too much for an already overworked department... I know, Aloyisius. I know. Believe me, I'm not blaming you or your Division. Britain's never had this magnitude of a ghost problem before."
"Begging your pardon, ma'am, but Transylvania's never had this magnitude of a problem before." The slender stick in the corner of his mouth shivered up and down. It took Amelia a moment to remember that Aloyisius (like quite a lot of his Spirit Speakers) had taken to patronizing Muggle coffee-sellers, and had developed a bad habit of chewing on the stir-sticks the places offered. Well, there were worse vices. "You-Know-Who's behind it- he's got to be. This isn't natural, this many wizards coming back as ghosts. Nobody's got this much unfinished business."
"I know." Amelia made a half-hearted effort at straightening up the latest pile of reports. "And even when they do, the degree of hostility they come back with isn't nearly as bad as this lot-"
"Not to mention the other things. Poltergeists. Genii loci. Grims and haunts and apparitions everywhere you turn! Hawkswell and Struble had to call in the Obliviators yesterday and do half of Arsenal just to keep things quiet- we're not talking about wizards being haunted here, ma'am, we're talking Muggles!"
Amelia's heart sank, but she valiantly kept her expression calm. "How many?"
"Half of Arsenal- that's a football team," Nacknouck added, seeing the blank incomprehension on the Minister's face. "It was just a practice session, and lucky for us, too- but that's just the beginning. I've sent the Zoll twins off to Wales, there's an entire Muggle village being terrorized by the Mari Llwyd-"
"Not a thestral that looks like...?"
"No." Nacknouck's face was grim. "Parvathi Tiruviluamala confirmed it. It's the real thing."
"You can say that again. It's only getting worse, Minister. My Division's doing everything in our power to put down the worst of it and send the ghosts along to wherever they're supposed to be- but even if it holds steady at this rate we can't do it all. We need help."
Amelia nodded, pinching the bridge of her nose between her index fingers. "It seems we don't have a choice," she said. "Call for Arthur Weasley, would you?"
Nacknouck started, but complied. Then he said, "Er- Weasley? Isn't he in-"
"Misuse of Muggle Artifacts, yes, send for him anyway." Her mouth twitched; she felt too tired to smile. "Believe me, Aloyisius, I've been reading everything you've brought me. I expected you'd be needing help early on. I just didn't think it would come to that point so quickly."
He nodded, taking a seat. "All right, but- why Weasley, if I might ask?"
The Minister of Magic steepled her fingers. "Europe's Spirit Speakers tend to be specialised in local ghosts and apparitions," she said. "There's a fellow in Finland does a bang-up job of expelling spirits from cursed artifacts- it's a real problem up there, apparently- but ask him to deal with something haunting a place and he's useless. The Italian strege are lovely at appeasing ghosts and relocating them, but they've got powerful cultural taboos against destroying certain kinds of spirits- the ones causing your Spirit Speakers the most trouble, naturally. And so on, and so forth. We could, theoretically, tap every country in Europe for aid and be covered- but the likelihood of getting all of them to cooperate is amazingly low. Not to mention that they've got their own problems."
"Yes, I suppose," said Nacknouck, "but you still haven't said why Weasley."
There was a rap at the Minister's door. Amelia smiled. "You'll see," she said, then raised her voice. "Come in, Arthur..."
The smile on the tall, thin wizard's face was not particularly convincing. Arthur Weasley, for all his jolly demeanor, was clearly worried- both of them could see that straightaway. "I came as soon as your message arrived, Minister," he said, hastily straightening one of his sleeves and trying ineffectually to smooth down his thinning red hair. "May I ask what this is about? Not that incident in the British Museum, I hope."
Amelia nodded to the chair opposite Nacknouck. "Sit down, please, Arthur- oh, do stop looking like you're expecting to be bitten. This isn't a reprimand."
"It's not?- I mean, oh! Of course, of course it's not..." Weasley settled himself into the chair hastily. "It's only-"
"Everyone is on edge these days, Arthur," said Amelia with what she hoped was a reassuring voice. "And small wonder, with everything that's been happening. No, this isn't about the Museum, and it's not about anything else to do with your office, either. As far as I'm concerned the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office has taken the transition from my predecessor's government better than the majority of the Ministry- along with the Spirit Division," she added, nodding towards Nacknouck.
Weasley blinked, glancing in the other wizard's direction. Apparently, he hadn't seen him before. Nacknouck nonetheless smiled politely and gave a smallish wave. "Spirit Division," murmured Weasley, turning back to the Minister's desk.
"Then this is about-"
"The increased incidence of ghost, poltergeist, and other spirit activity across Britain over the past month, yes."
Weasley looked to Nacknouck again, and then sat up very straight. "What could the Spirit Division possibly need from my office?" he asked. There was a peculiar little smile on his face, matched almost exactly by the one on Amelia's; he looked, thought Nacknouck, like a child in on a grown-up's jokes for the first time.
"Four names, Arthur," said the Minister.
"All four? You're sure? They don't take well to suggestions of being separated, I told you that already-"
"All four, yes. Even if two of them are, technically, Muggles."
Nacknouck, who had been looking back and forth between the two, put up a finger. "Er- technically Muggles? What, like Squibs?"
"No, Aloyisius," said Amelia with another smile. "Muggles. Arthur, here, met a number of gentlemen from America some years ago- a unique partnership of wizards and extraordinarily persistent Muggles who have, somehow, managed to gain the endorsement of the American Department of Magic." Weasley was beaming like a cat in a creamery. "He suggested that the Ministry contact them quite some time ago, but the idea was- rejected- at lower levels. A fact for which I am extremely sorry, by the by."
Weasley waved one hand as if to say 'don't mention it'. "I'm just glad you were willing to take my letter when I handed it to you personally."
Amelia nodded, and looked back to Nacknouck. "The long and the short of it is this: your Division can throw themselves at this problem until their hearts burst, and it won't do anyone any good. You need help, without pausing to bicker with Spain and Bulgaria and San Marino and all the rest. We cannot afford to be fussy any more, Aloyisius..."
"Arthur? You have official Ministry of Magic authorization to send for the Ghostbusters. Immediately."