Ginny was very nervous.
The third-years were doing Boggarts today, taking turns facing one and rendering it ridiculous. Most of the fears were predictable--mummies, snakes, Peeves. For Ginnyís part, she didnít know what would come up. If she were lucky, it would be a gigantic snake. Under most circumstances, she wouldnít be hoping for that, but it was better than the alternative.
She couldnít bring herself to think his name anymore. Even coming close made her go hot and cold with mingled shame and fear. She had done her best to forget her disastrous first year, but there were some things that were etched into her memory.
So she hoped for a snake. One she could tie into a huge, flopping, helpless knot.
A giant foot squashed Jeremyís monster cockroach flat, and Ginny stepped forward. The flattened bug swelled upward into a human form, in long black robes. It was tiny, skinny, with long red hair draping down over the black diary she clutched to her chest.
For a moment, Ginny thought, Who is that? Then, as her classmates broke out in gasps and shouts, she realized.
It was the face she saw every day in the mirror.
Ginnyís wand shook wildly. How could she make this little girl ridiculous? The Boggart paced closer, her cold, hard eyes fixed on Ginnyís face.
"Riddikulus," Ginny whispered. "Riddikulus--" Her wand slid out of her trembling fingers, and she stumbled backward, cowering behind a desk. "Go away. Please!"
"Enough," Moody said sharply, stepping forward to gain the Boggartís attention. "Riddikulus!"
The Boggart flashed into a man with a wand, and then a wisp of smoke that fled into its safe chest in the corner. Ginny sank down into a seat and put her head in her arms.
"Thatís enough for today, class," she heard Moody say. "Read up on chapter three for next time."
The class filed out, whispering to each other.
"Jordan . . . Markham . . . Creevey. You too. Iíd like to speak with Weasley alone."
Three more sets of footsteps echoed on the floorboards and faded. Only then did Ginny lift her head. She was surprised to find her eyes dry.
Moody stood in front of her desk. "I donít pretend to understand what that was all about."
She didnít even know if she could have explained it.
"But youíve got to be able to face a Boggart at the end of the year."
She swallowed. "Yes, Professor."
"I know some fears are worse than others, and itís not fair, but thatís just life."
"Iím testing you a week from today--Halloween. Itís a practical. If you canít face your fear and banish the Boggart on your own, Iím going to have to fail you."
"You can practice between classes all you like, but I canít make any special allowances for you on the day of the test."
He peered at her. "All right then. Run along."
* * *
Carmen, Jeremy, and Colin all tried to get her to talk about it, but she only told them what Moody had said. "Iíve got to do it right."
"Ginny," Carmen said kindly. "Itís just one little test. You donít need that on your birthday. If you just--"
"Iím not doing well in Defense Against the Dark Arts as it is, Carmen. I really need to pass this, if I can."
"Iím going to talk to Hermione." Ginny climbed off the couch before they could say anything more.
Her brother directed her to the library, where Hermione was working on an essay that Ron would attempt to copy off her in three days when it was due. "Ginny!" she said, looking up from her spread of books. "Hi. Doing homework?"
"Hi," Ginny said, settling into the chair that Hermione indicated. She had come a long way from her blind hatred of Hermione, back when sheíd thought Harry fancied the older girl. It was obvious to anyone with a brain that he never had, and Ginny could only attribute it to the effects of that awful year. "Sort of. You did Boggarts, right?"
"Last year, with Professor Lupin. Are you?"
"Yes, and I--"
"Having trouble?" Hermione asked kindly, when Ginny couldnít go on.
"Yes. Itís to do with my fear."
Hermioneís eyes widened. "Did you see--him?"
"No. I saw myself."
"The way I was first year. Diary and all. I couldnít do anything, Hermione. I dropped my wand. And Moody said heíd have to fail me on the test if I didnít--"
"Is Moody letting you practice?"
"Then letís go see what youíre doing wrong."
* * *
"Sorry Iím late, Ginny, but I was in the library. I think Iíve found something!"
It was the night before Halloween. Ginny was squeezing in one last, futile practice session with the Boggart before the test, and Hermione had just come rushing into Moodyís classroom.
"This has happened before, with wizards and Boggarts. Itís called skiaphobia. Fear of shadows or ghosts."
"You mean itís not just me?" Ginny collapsed into a chair.
"No, and look here." Hermione held out the book. "In these cases, Riddikulus doesnít do a thing. Most people have external fears, but when itís internal, you canít laugh at yourself."
"Then what do I do?"
Hermione suddenly looked nervous. "Um--well, itís really only a theory. I donít know if itíll work."
"But nothing else has," Ginny said wearily. "Why not try a theory? What is it?"
"You have to accept your shadow."
"My--Iím sorry, what?"
"You have to accept it, Ginny. Itís only a theory," she added.
"How am I supposed to do that when I canít even look at me? Her. It."
Hermione set the book down. "Tell me--why are you so scared of yourself?"
"Because I hated myself that year," Ginny cried. "I hate myself, the way I was. I never want to go back!"
"It was--horrible. It was like I had this wall around me. And now--whenever I find myself doing something that I might have done that year--I have to catch myself. I have to say, ĎAm I doing it again?í Iím always on guard. I canít ever rest. You know what happened last time."
"Of course I do. But I donít think itís as bad as youíre making it out to be."
"How can you say that? I could have killed you!"
"Yes, but I donít blame you for that. Neither does anyone else. Nobody holds you to task for the things you did. Nobodyís watching you, trying to trip you up. The only person that hasnít forgiven you--is you."
* * *
"Ginny, are you going to be all right?"
"Itís only one test, after all," Jeremy added.
"Yeah," Colin put in. "I donít think anyone would be shocked if you just sort of--left."
"Iím fine," Ginny said through stiff, cold lips. She wasnít sure she would be, but this had gone beyond an academic task for her. This had become a test of herself.
Moody called them up in alphabetical order. She sat in her chair, watching her classmates defeat Lethifolds and mummies, and felt her icy fingers clench each other in her lap.
His voice pulled her to her feet, and she crept forward, wobbling in every extremity. But her core was pure ice.
Moodyís hand paused over the chestís lid. "You can still take a failing mark."
"I need to try."
"Very well, then." He opened the lid, and Ginny was once more face-to-face with herself.
It wasnít a shock this time, because sheíd been practicing so much. But she still felt a sick lurch of revulsion in the pit of her stomach. She battled it back and took a shaky step forward. In response, the Boggart did too.
"Wand up, Weasley," Moody said sharply.
She didnít hear him. She was too focused on the Boggart.
This is a part of myself. Itís not a part Iím proud of, or even like. But itís there, and until I understand that, I canít go beyond it.
The Boggart tilted its head, a birdlike little gesture that Ginny hadnít even known she had.
When I fight against you, Iím fighting myself. I canít fight anymore. Iíve been afraid for too long. I must accept you.
"Weasley! Wand up!"
Ginny put her wand in her pocket.
"Ginny!" Carmen shrieked. "No!"
I accept you.
Ginny stretched out her hand. The Ginny-Boggart took a little step forward.
In the last moment before Ginnyís fingertips would have brushed the Boggartís wrist, the ice melted from its eyes, and the very faintest of smiles flitted across its lips.
It wasnít terrifying anymore.
There was a blinding flash of light, and then it was gone. Ginny--the real Ginny--sank to the floor, trembling uncontrollably. Silence reigned.
Ginny lifted her head. "Yes, Professor?"
He leaned down and put out a hand to help her up. "Full marks."