Ginny can't help noticing that Sirius has beautiful hands.
It's almost cruel, really. That he's been stripped of his youth and his future and in return Fate has magnanimously let him keep his hands, a testament to a man who once had a smile so beautiful that Ginny - silly, freckled Ginny - still sleeps with an old picture of him under her pillow.
What's embarrassing is that she didn't even realize that picture was of Sirius – Harry's Sirius - until a week after she found it, sifting through dusty chests in the attic of 12 Grimmauld Place under the pretense of cleaning. It's old, fading at the edges and curling around the corners but she pockets it because she's always collected photographs, 'bits of other people's souls' as her father says, and Ginny would like nothing more than to keep a bit of Sirius for herself. She's always been fascinated with families like the Blacks, families with history and heirlooms and priceless furniture that date back to times when Muggles still knew about wizards. Grimmauld Place is a literal goldmine of dying beauty that no one else can see, and sometimes at night Ginny imagines she can almost hear the house crumbling under the unbearable burden of time.
Her mother tells her she's nothing but a silly girl and she's right, of course she is. There is nothing wrong with being a Weasley, nothing shameful about broken bicycles and funny clocks and grandparents whose names are already half-forgotten. Heaven knows that Harry would gladly trade families with her in a heartbeat, and sometimes Ginny wishes that they could, because if she had black hair and green eyes maybe Sirius would remember her name.
It's enough, for now, just to wake up with his picture under her pillow. But it gives her a strange feeling of guilt, that it's wrong for her mornings to begin with brushing her fingers along the side of Sirius's smiling, fading face, stroking the creases in his forehead and tracing the edge of his mouth. She can't help it, though. Looking at him as he used to be, at the tilt of his head and the curve of his jaw, it's not hard to understand why it was so easy for people to fall in love with Sirius Black. It's strangely intimate having a piece of his past and the fact that she's never said more than ten words to him makes it all the more unsettling. It's not that she doesn't like him or that she's scared of him because she's not, even with that brooding face and those startlingly light, unfocused eyes that look right through you. She just doesn't want to give in. She knows what has happened to the people who have loved Sirius Black, how they paid for their love. But it is impossible to resist the gravity of the stars.
It takes Ginny three weeks to realize that Sirius doesn't want to talk to her; she asks him about the portrait of a beautiful girl with heavily-lidded eyes and he tells her to clean the sitting room; she wants to know why he became an Animagus and he makes her go help Ron in the kitchen; she asks him why he's never apologized to his mother and this time, it is Sirius who leaves. But there is no one else to talk to in this house, this dank, dying house that seems to breathe with a suffocating life of its own and Ginny cannot help wanting to know more about the man whom Harry loves so very much.
Sirius cannot hold out forever. Ginny is willing to listen, and that is enough.
His voice reminds her of smoke and rust, like the tarnished silver Kreacher stubbornly hoards away. It's not a pleasant sound but she loves to hear it, to listen to him push away the thick and heavy silence that blankets Grimmauld Place.
She would like it even more if he'd look her in the eye. He never does and somehow, she never expects him to.
It's enough, for now, for him to simply talk to her. He tells her stories in a surprised manner, as if he cannot believe they really happened and more importantly, as if he cannot believe he still has memories that don't contain the dark misery of Azkaban. He never tells her what she wants to know but instead fills the hours with tales about Muggles, about politics. About his cousin Andromeda and how they used to play chicken and sneak itching powder in each other's clothes, how he woke up one day with his bed floating six feet above the floor and nearly broke his leg trying to get out, how she gave him his first black eye and he gave her hope.
He tells her of the places he's been, of musty apothecaries and green mountains in China and fortune tellers who can tell you your future (and accurately, too) just by tracing the lines of your face. Africa, where village wizards map the patterns of time into desert sands and see meanings in the reflected light of the moon and live twice as long as other wizards.
She can tell that his favourite, though, is Greece. He tells her, haltingly, about a hazy sun and blurry light glinting off a pier, sand that slides, hot and white, through your fingers and a sea that shifts from azure to cerulean to cobalt, and it's as if she's breathing in the heavy air with the tang of salt in her mouth and the sharp cry of a seagull in her ear.
She asks him to take her there someday and he laughs, sharp and biting, and looks past her into the kitchen where Molly is clanking pots around and Tonks is juggling Chocolate Frogs.
Go with Harry, he tells her, I won't live long enough to take you.
Sirius is given a funeral a few months after his death, more of an afterthought than anything else. Ginny doubts that they would have even bothered if it hadn't been for Harry, poor thin Harry who demanded that Sirius not be forgotten. It's too late, anyway. Already the gold threads of the tapestry are fading.
He's the only one who cries at the funeral, meaningless words pouring out of his mouth in an embarrassing torrent of emotion. God, I wish I knew him better, he whispers. Ginny pats his back detachedly but she refuses to give up the one thing Sirius gave her, especially when he had given Harry so much more.
She graduates and there are no jobs. No one wants to hire her, an average witch with a handful of N.E.W.T.s and no discerning strengths to speak of. She is an anomaly, she decides, the only girl and the only one without talent in a brood of larger-than-life brothers, and so she does what anyone else would do: she runs away. Goes round the world trying to forget. To China with Ron, to hike through mountains and watch wild dragons breathe smoke and fire in a green world. To Africa with Hermione, to learn the weight of ten thousand years of magic and the bitter knowledge of history. To Venice, Moscow, Prague, Jerusalem, Sarajevo, Abu Dhabi, and the world blurs into a seamless, blank whirl of rude waitresses and alarmclocks in grey hotel rooms.
She goes to Greece by herself. There is no beauty there beyond the gaily coloured posters and boys with slow, lilting voices that invite but contain no promise. She sleeps on the beach and tries to catch fish with her bare hands, and watches while the waves wash her footprints away as if they never existed. The days melt together in a haze of quiet loneliness and the memory of London and 12 Grimmauld Place still refuses to fade.
Sometimes in the ringing silence of the islands she thinks she can hear Sirius's voice from beyond the Veil. He's gone and she knows this, that nothing can bring him back, not Harry's regrets nor her own sleepless nights, but Ginny will never forget the day Mrs. Black's portrait fell silent. There is nothing more to say. They can only listen. To Sirius, who says in death what he could not in life: I'm sorry.