This was written for Ori in The DG Forum Fic Exchange - Summer 2018 by a member of our forum. For more details, please visit our page.

July 1st, 2002

The Ministry of Magic, Somewhere in London

Ginny glanced around Kingsley Shacklebolt's office. It looked more or less the same as the office of the Minister of Magic always had—shelves of leather-bound books and parchments, a large, mahogany desk, its surface scattered with quills and inkpots and manuscripts, weary owls flying in and out, carrying messages from other departments. She remembered so well when her father had worked at the Ministry, and it had seemed like a fascinating, forbidden place to her childhood self, full of magic and secrets and mystery.

Well, it had lost its fascination now.

"I'm not going to do this," said Ginny flatly.

"Ginny Weasley," said the minister in his deep, sonorous voice. He said only her name, no more, but she stiffened at the tone. It was almost the same one her father had always used when he was disappointed by her, or sad because of something she had failed to do. There was no menace in it, no warning, no real anger. And somehow, that made it worse. It was the voice that Arthur Weasley had always used when he reminded Ginny of her responsibilities, and when he felt that she hadn't lived up to them. It made her feel sad and inadequate and defensive, and filled with fear, somewhere in the bottom of her heart, that he was right. That she hadn't done enough, hadn't lived up to her duties. That she could do more, and he would not let her get away with less.

Maybe Shacklebolt had actually learned that voice from her father for this very occasion.

But at least he hadn't said, this is what your father would have wanted. This is what your father would have asked of you. If only he hadn't died in the war, if only Fred and George had survived, if… if only.

"Yes, I'm well aware of my name," she snapped, knowing just how ungraceful she sounded. "My answer is still the same. You don't know if this is going to work. You don't even know if it's real, just that it's theoretically possible. All you know for sure is that if it did work, I'd have to meet… that I'll have to see, to hear…" She licked her lips, which had gone bone dry. "Him."

"I know. And I am more sorry for that than I can say." The Minister's voice was very quiet. Maybe he'd lost the ability to speak any louder during the last half hour of repeating the facts again and again, thought Ginny, laying out the arguments, trying to overcome her objections to this insane project, one by one.

And he had. Or he almost had, or would have done, anyway. But then, at the very end, he'd told her what this thing would really involve. Who she'd have to face, and perhaps fight, and certainly somehow outwit and overcome. The man, and he had once been a man, who had laid a shadow over her entire life. Who had dealt her a wound that had never truly healed. Who had taken her father and three of her brothers from her, who had turned her mother into a shadow of her former self.

No. No, I won't, I can't.

"I really can't," she whispered, realizing too late that she had spoken at all. "I wish I could, I really do, but… but no." Her voice gained strength.

She had fled the wizarding world and started her own life after the last battle, five years before. She would have destroyed herself if she had not; she understood that now. And she had rebuilt her fragile self too recently, the structure of her personality was still much too unsteady, and the slightest push in exactly the wrong spot could topple her over. She could not do what the Minister asked. No!

Shacklebolt stood silently. Had he finally figured out that there was nothing more he could do or say that would convince her to take part in this insane attempt? Whether he had or not, his silence was even worse than his pleas had been.

What would happen if she simply started for the door? Ginny wondered. This might be the perfect time to flee. Harry was somewhere in the building, and at some point, he was bound to come into this office. He was an Auror, after all, the youngest one in the division, of course, a rising star, and he might consult with the Minister ten times a day for all she knew. It was amazing that she'd managed to avoid running into Harry so far.

But then, if she left, maybe she'd run into him in the corridor. That would be even worse.

And she'd rather die than see him.

As she hesitated, Shacklebolt opened his mouth and began to speak again. She had a horrible feeling of foreboding before she even heard the first word. And with each passing word, she knew she'd been right.

"In this alternate reality, there was a second child," the Minister said. "Another whose life Thomas Riddle touched and tainted. Another who barely escaped with scars that perhaps never truly healed. "

"Another… child?" Ginny whispered, turning back.

"Yes, and one even younger than you were."

Ginny closed her eyes, seeing herself again at the age of eleven, a pale, small child, short for her age, dressed in patched robes and shoes shined to conceal their shabbiness. Eager and naïve, easily led to near-destruction. And the Minister was talking about a child even smaller than she'd been then. She pictured a little girl like a younger sister, looking up at her with pleading eyes, begging for her help…

He went on, his voice smooth and rich, impossible to ignore or block out. "Another child who grew to be an adult who tiptoes on the edge of destruction. But perhaps… that person could be saved, as well."

Oh, gods no. It doesn't make any difference, it doesn't! I'm not changing my mind. I'm not agreeing to do this thing. I don't even know who this hypothetical child is! And I still don't believe for one second that any of this will work, anyway. The entire idea is crazy…

Having thoroughly decided all of that, Ginny walked back towards the minister's desk. "I'll do it," she said.

He smiled, white teeth flashing in the golden light that spilled from the floor lamp. "Thank you, Miss Weasley." He began to go over a sheaf of papers.

Don't thank me yet, thought Ginny. She still didn't believe that this insane idea to travel to an alternate reality and somehow affect its outcome was even possible. It was past any magic she knew or had ever even heard of. But… but before the knowledge that a second child was somehow tangled in Thomas Riddle's web in that other reality, she'd hoped that she was right about this impossibility. Now that she knew, and she felt oddly sure that what Shacklebolt had said was true, she hoped that she was wrong.

"The spell is nearly complete," said the Minister, straightening up. "I will return shortly, and then we will perform the ritual." He turned to leave. Then, just before he went through the door into the corridor, he turned back to Ginny.

"Ah, I almost forgot. You will be working with a partner."

Ginny had been leaning over the desk. Now, she shot upright. "What?"

"I'd believed when I first contacted you regarding this matter that your efforts would be sufficient," said Shacklebolt in his softly lilting voice. "But I was not correct. You will need a partner, and he ought to have arrived by now."

For an awful moment, Ginny was sure that she knew who this as-yet-unnamed partner had to be. Harry Potter. Which would also explain why Shacklebolt hadn't told her right away. Everyone in the wizarding world certainly knew about their disastrous breakup, two years after the war had ended. Although their relationship would have been a whole lot more disastrous if it had gone on any longer, she knew.

Oh, gods. That has to be it. Harry is going to walk through that door any second.

And it would make a horrible kind of sense for her unnamed partner to be Harry, because he was, after all, an up and coming Auror. He was probably being sent as an expert of some kind. She'd have to work with him, and she'd guessed right away that she'd have to be working closely with this as-yet unknown partner. And every time she looked into his face, she would remember the sight that she could never forgot. Harry on the battlefield at Hogwarts five years earlier, his eyes stunned and blank, the enormity of what he'd done hovering somewhere just outside his mind. Or rather, what he hadn't done. He had finally played the hero, yes. He had defeated Voldemort. He had saved the entire wizarding world.

But he had waited too long to save everyone in it

Too many had died that day- people who almost certainly would have survived if Harry hadn't hesitated just those few crucial minutes before going out to meet Voldemort. Half of Ginny's family were among them. And she could never forget that.

But she couldn't back out now. Ginny knew that. If Harry was there, perhaps that was even more of a reason for her to be there too in order to help the child. She somehow didn't think that would be Harry's biggest strength. She took a deep breath.

"It's Harry. Isn't it. He's going to be my partner," she said resolutely.

"No, Harry Potter will not be accompanying you," said the minister, breaking into her thoughts.

The wave of relief that surged through Ginny left her weak in the knees. She clutched onto the back of a chair for support, as surreptitiously as she could. "I don't mind who it is as long as it's not Harry," she said, much more honestly than she had meant to do. "You… " She hesitated. "You do know why, don't you?"

Shacklebolt looked sad for a moment. "Yes, I do."

A small screech owl fluttered between them then, and the Minister took a scroll from its proffered beak. He scanned the lines. "Your partner has arrived. I will send him in now, and I will return shortly."

"I don't care who it is as long as it's not Harry," Ginny said fervently, and less quietly than she would have liked.

Was there actually a hint of a smile on Shacklebolt's dark face? No. Surely not.

As Shacklebolt walked out, Ginny heard footsteps approaching the door from the other direction. Nobody, Ginny decided, could possibly be worse than Harry, no matter who her partner turned out to be.. She'd rather have anyone than him.

As soon as the door opened, she was reminded of an old saying her father had been fond of repeating.

Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

Draco Malfoy walked into the office of the Minister of Magic.

Ginny could tell that he hadn't seen her right away. He couldn't possibly be so calm if he had spotted her on walking in, so undisturbed. And he looked as undisturbed as always, as if nothing could possibly ruffle his smooth, privileged self. As if he stood a bit apart from the common herd, a tad above those who weren't in his class. She knew she was being unfair even as she thought these things, but she didn't particularly care.

He was as striking as ever, she saw. He had grown into his unusual looks a good bit more than he had at the age of seventeen, when she'd done so much more with him than she should have, or nineteen, when she'd last spoken a single word to him. He had the look of a young man now, not a boy. She drank in the sight of him for those last few moments before he saw her, when that handsome face of his would doubtless twist into a scowl, just as it had done that last time they'd spoken four years earlier. As always, he wasn't conventionally handsome, not really. His cheekbones were too high, his nose and chin too pointed, his silvery gray eyes too large for his pale face, his body a little too lean, his hands and feet too large for his slight build.

And yet… as always, he was the most handsome man she had ever seen.

Ginny's face twisted in a scowl that could match any of his at that thought. Unfortunately, her face still wore the unpleasant expression when he walked out of the vestibule and into the office itself, and that was how he saw her. Too late, Ginny realized it.

He didn't match her less-than-welcoming expression, which was what she'd fully expected. But his eyes widened in astonishment.

"You?" he asked, in the same drawling, deep voice as always.

"Yes, me," she snapped.

"You're my partner in this project?"

The scowl crept back over her face, and she made no attempt to hide it.

"Yes, I am. And I'm not any happier about it than you are."

His face closed and hardened until he looked exactly the way he had four years before, on the day when she'd told him that she was leaving the wizarding world and could have nothing more to do with him, ever again.

"I'd hardly dared to hope for such a charming partner, Weasley. You've always been such a delight to… ah… work with."

Oh! Ginny shut her mouth, feeling her face turn red. Why couldn't her partner have been someone besides Harry or Malfoy? There were certainly more than two men in the wizarding world. Why couldn't it have been Dean Thomas, or Colin? She supposed that she would already have known walking in that day if Colin were her partner, because he would have told her, so it wouldn't have been a surprise. Colin was almost the only person she still knew from the wizarding world. A lot of it, she suspected, was because Colin's mother, brother, and uncles had all died in the last battle. But then, they'd always been friends.

Or Luna? Or shy little Astoria Greengrass? Or, oh… anyone at all.

"I suppose it's much too late to request a different partner," Malfoy was muttering now from the other side of the desk.

"Yes, I think it is. Look, I don't particularly want to work with you, but—"

"You think I do?" snarled Draco.

She stepped backwards as if he'd tried to hit her. She shouldn't have cared if he made it clear that he'd rather be partnering with anyone else; his words shouldn't have been insulting. But they were.

"Are you backing out?" she asked.

Malfoy sighed so softly that she wasn't sure she'd even heard the sound. "No," he said in a clipped voice. "No, this project is much too important."

"Look, what I was going to say was that we've got to find a way to make it work," she said stiffly. "We don't need to… to like each other. But we've got to work together. If it's really half as important as Shacklebolt makes it out to be, then we've got to do it, if it even can be done."

Draco turned away briefly, so that she couldn't see his face, and then back towards her. He walked round the desk so that he was standing closer to her. Ginny wanted to shrink back, but forced herself to stay in place through an effort of will.

"Has he talked you into this as well?" he asked in a neutral voice.

"Yes," admitted Ginny. "Do you honestly think it's going to work?"

Draco shrugged. "It seems pretty bloody unlikely. I've never even heard of any magic that could transport us into an alternate reality, let alone allow us to influence events in it."

"That's what I thought as well," said Ginny. "But… how much do you know about this thing?"

"It's all pretty vague," said Malfoy. "Shacklebolt essentially told me that the spirit of Thomas Riddle is threatening to rise again, and he's somehow manipulated his incorporeal form so that he can't be stopped in our… reality, I suppose. The only hope, according to the Minister, at least, is somehow traveling to an alternate version of our time and blocking Riddle there. Nothing much more specific, though."

"That's what he told me," said Ginny. She drummed her fingers on the desk. "I have to be honest. It all sounds pretty dodgy to me as far as our chances of being able to accomplish anything. Or even getting there in the first place. I've never heard of anyone doing this successfully, or really even making a serious go at it. Time Turners and Pensieves are the closest things I can think of, but this… I just don't know if there's any real chance."

Malfoy nodded. "I agree. But if there's even a possibility that this is the only way to end the threat of Riddle, or Voldemort, or whatever name you choose- then I'm in." He studied her face. "What?"

"Nothing. I just…"

He raised an eyebrow. "You seem surprised."

"No. It's not that." She was surprised to hear such direct words from him, but also glad. And since there was no way to express that mixed emotion without revealing much, much more than she wanted to, Ginny decided that changing the subject was the better part of valor.

"So who did you think your partner was going to be?" she asked.

He smiled, that familiar half-smile of his that could transform his face if he allowed it to widen just a bit further. "I really didn't have the least idea. I hoped like hell that it wasn't Potter, though."

Ginny couldn't help but laugh at that.

"So I'm not quite as dreadful as Potter would have been?" The smile flirted with a grin.

"No, you're not as bad as Harry," Ginny admitted.

The brief silence that fell between them was almost friendly. Almost, thought Ginny.

"Why did you say yes to this project, Malfoy?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Oh, a variety of reasons, I suppose. Shacklebolt's informed me that two children are at risk in this reality, and for whatever reason, we're the only two who have any chance of rescuing them," said Draco. "So… I said yes to his proposal."

"That's what got you to do it?" she asked.

"You sound so incredulous, Weasley—how flattering," Malfoy said dryly.

"But why else?" Ginny pressed the issue without quite knowing why. "I can't believe that's the only reason. Is it?"

His face closed again. "My other reasons are my own."

She scowled. Just when she thought he was exhibiting thirty seconds' worth of decent behavior…

The office door opened again. Shacklebolt had returned, holding a small cauldron and a dark velvet bag.

"The time has come," he said simply. "We must act quickly. Mr. Malfoy, Miss Weasley… Professor Bufflebuns." The Minister gestured to the small, round man trailing behind him.

Ginny had to bite her tongue hard to keep the awful bubble of laughter in her throat from making its way to the surface. Bufflebuns! She didn't dare to look at Malfoy. He'd always had a way of sharing subtle jokes with her, of allowing just a bit of warmth and humor to slip through his cold façade, and she had a feeling it would be no different now.

"Yes, yes, very quickly indeed," trilled Professor Bufflebuns, bouncing into the room. His multicolored robes swirled around him like a melting rainbow Ginny had once seen in a dream after sampling just a bit too much of a new Datura plant. "You both represent the only hope of the wizarding world. And how lovely it is to meet you!"

"I, ah, don't believe I remember you from my own Hogwarts days," said Malfoy.

"Professor Bufflebuns teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts," said Shacklebolt.

Oh dear. Remembering the lack of job security for teachers in that specialty at Hogwarts, Ginny felt a twinge of pity for the elf-like man.

"Yes, yes, for the past three years," added Professor Bufflebuns. "Such a delightful topic."

Ginny glanced at the little man with more respect. He's tougher than he looks, she thought.

"At any rate. Tempis fugit, and all that, so we'd best get started," said the professor. He began to set up the little cauldron and pour various liquids into it from a set of capped bottles. The atmosphere grew more serious, somehow, even with Mr. Bufflebuns still almost splitting his little fact in half with a grin.

"If I might trouble you, Minister, I have a few more questions," said Draco Malfoy. Ginny noticed that the supercilious tone had completely left his voice. She decided that even if none of this plan worked, it was all worth it to hear Malfoy sounding completely serious for once.

"This is the final opportunity for any questions you may have, so I believe that you should ask them," said Shacklebolt.

Final opportunity, thought Ginny. I don't much care for the sound of that.

"Assuming that this does work, that is," Malfoy went on, and Ginny thought again that he no longer sounded incredulous about the possibility. "Will… ah… Miss Weasley and I somehow experience the entire lives of these other people?"

"It's impossible to be completely precise," said Shacklebolt. "However, I believe that you'll both experience only the most relevant parts over a brief period of time. Several days when both of you have important interacts in this reality, perhaps."

"So this actually will be some sort of alternate reality? It's not just an illusion?" asked Ginny dubiously.

Shacklebolt glanced at the professor. "No, no," said Bufflebuns as he measured a silver spoonful of glittering powder and tipped it into the cauldron. "It's all quite real. The events are actually happening at the very same moment as in our world. It's only… you know… not in the dimension we experience. On an astral plane, and all that." He waved a chubby hand vaguely. Smoke suddenly billowed from the cauldron, and he coughed, waving the hand more vigorously. "Don't be—ahem—alarmed," he said between coughs. "The potion's coming along quite well."

It was all that Ginny could do to not trade glances with Malfoy. If she had harbored doubts about this project before, they were nothing compared to her feelings now. Or rather, her misgivings had shifted from the idea that any of this would work at all to the question of just how much might go wrong if it did succeed. But this Bufflebuns was more competent than he looked, she firmly told herself. Not that this standard was very high. He'd have to be, she thought, for him to be allowed through the front door at Hogwarts, much less teach there.

"You will inhabit those parallel lives," said Shacklebolt, speaking a bit hurriedly, in Ginny's opinion.

"For how long? I mean, could we actually be stuck staying there forever?" she asked.

"Oh, no, I shouldn't worry about that one bit," said Bufflebuns, carefully pouring the dark, bubbling liquid from the cauldron into two small crystal goblets. "The underlying spells prevent the two realities from straying too far out of phase, which is really quite useful, when you think about it."

"But what if we don't finish… well, what we're supposed to do… before we're automatically brought back?" asked Ginny.

"The Minister has such faith in the both of you," said Bufflebuns, handing Ginny a goblet. "I trust his judgment implicitly. I don't have the slightest doubt that you and Mr. Malfoy will succeed."

"Ah… but what if we don't? We haven't really been given the most precise information," said Malfoy.

"I do so wish that were possible. Unfortunately, handling alternate but parallel realities can be a bit like predicting the future in crystal balls and tea leaves. The information's there, no doubt about it, but as to its precision… But there's nothing to fear, nothing at all," said the professor, pressing a goblet into the younger man's hands.

"I suppose we'll need to keep the integrity of that other timeline," Malfoy was saying now, in the voice that had always meant he was terrified of whatever was happening but determined not to show his fear. "So we shouldn't reveal ourselves."

"There will be no need to worry about exposure," said Shacklebolt. "Your other selves will remember nothing, and know nothing, of the wizarding world."

"Well, yes, at least we're reasonably certain that's how this will work," put in Professor Bufflebuns.

Ginny did catch the expression on Malfoy's face then, and it left her torn between horror and laughter. She knew that it mirrored hers. What the hell have we got ourselves into? Is there still time to back out? Maybe?

But that child… that second child, in that other reality… and that means that I'm in danger, too, and maybe even Malfoy, in some way that I can't even begin to imagine.

" I'm afraid that we do need to hurry this along; the spell will lose its potency quite soon. Tempus est de essentias…. Essentium

… oh, I never really was terribly gifted at Latin, you know… Drink up, now!" Professor Bufflebuns beamed at them from a round, pink face, his blue eyes twinkling.

Ginny nerved herself, lifted the glass, and drained it in one gulp. Ugh. From the corner of one eye, she saw the Malfoy had done the same, and that he didn't seem a bit more pleased with the taste. She thought of musty books and old cobwebs stirred into muddy water from the bottom of the Hogwarts lake.

"The spell should begin to act in only a few moments," said Shacklebolt.

Ginny fidgeted. For the first time, it occurred to her to wonder why both she and Draco Malfoy had been chosen. She knew that her own inclusion in the project was logically. She'd had that long-ago connection with the shade of Thomas Riddle, and it was a bond that unfortunately could never really be broken, no matter how desperately she'd tried to do so. But why was Malfoy a part of this?

I suppose I already know that, she thought. I wouldn't have thought that Shacklebolt and this Professor Bufflebuns would know, though. But then again, maybe it's their business to keep track of things like that. She shivered at the memory of what she knew, the things that Dr—Malfoy had once whispered to her, the things that had happened when Voldemort was at Malfoy Manor for an entire summer, and Dr—Malfoy!—had found him there every time he went home for a holiday or a weekend. Hogwarts had begun allowing students to go home much more often, and every time he had done, Voldemort was there. And bit by bit, in little pieces, in hints, in confessions that she was never even sure Malfoy remembered later on, Ginny had heard so much of what happened—even though she'd always suspected that he had never told her the worst of it. Oh, yes, she knew all too well why Draco Malfoy was connected to Thomas Riddle, too-

The room suddenly wavered, then blurred, then began to run together like watercolors on parchment. She gripped at the table, and then she felt a hand in hers, oh, she remembered that hand so well, warm and strong, with long fingers, holding her, lending her the strength of its owner. She held to Draco Malfoy's hand as hard as she could, even as she felt his fingers dissolving into nothingness along with the room. The memory of the last time those fingers had touched her skin… her mental defenses were down in that moment, so she wasn't able to suppress the sensations as easily as she'd been able to do over the past five years. But it didn't really matter in that moment. And somewhere up ahead, the slanting sunlight of a late summer evening, brighter and hotter than anywhere she had ever been, and the scent of fennel and sage in the air…

Ori's Prompt (#1)

Basic premise: Draco and Ginny Silicon Valley AU

Must haves: Ginny and Draco banters

No-no's: No D/G offspring, no Ginny being Draco's admin or secretary

Rating range: Any

Bonus points: Ginny takeover Draco's company