1) The plea for assistance required that he travel to Santa Cruz, where it was temperate, and half-way around the world from most of the people he knew.
2) It also came with an offer of a very handsome salary that did not, in any way, shape or form, involve being around children.
3) It had been nothing but respectful.
Of course, the third reason was also his excellent reason not to go. Respect out of a Weasley was the equivalent of docility from a dragon: something meant to lure the unexpecting idiot in for the playful maiming and not-so-playful eating.
When he arrived, summer robes perfectly in place, at a sunny sea-side facility, and Ginny Weasley greeted him with a sharp smile and a soft, but firm, "Professor," he knew he'd made a mistake.
Out over the ocean, a seagull flew close enough to the water to skim its surface. Miss Weasley said, "I'll show you around, talk to you about what we need."
She turned to walk off. Her feet were bare, pressing down into sand that had to be burning her soles.
He followed her.
Miss Weasley worked with an American breed of magical creature that closely resembled the dolphin, but had an extra fin on its underside, and a considerably longer life than the average dolphin. Most of her colleagues were working on developing forms of communication with the creature. She, who had advanced degrees in magical creature care and the healing arts, worked on discovering whether it had any useful medical properties. Which, as she explained, was why she had called him in.
"I've had three so-called Potions Masters come," she said, with more than an edge of frustration to the words. "None of them had a clue as to what they were doing. I needed someone I knew wasn't a bloody moron."
"So glad I could be of service," Severus said dryly.
She paid him no heed. "Anyhow, I think I've found useful properties in their saliva, particularly for wound-cleaning and healing purposes, but I'm helpless at higher level potion creation, and everything I've tried leaves the compound too strong, caustic, even."
Severus sighed. He could only imagine. "I'll need a list of everything you've tried. Do not leave anything out."
"Of course." The chit rolled her eyes at him. "I've been recording my efforts and those of your predecessors as we went along."
All right, so Severus probably hadn't been expecting that level of competency from a Weasley. Maybe he should have paid more attention to the later ones. He'd just been so bloody tired by the time they'd come along. And they'd all been obsessed with Potter, which hadn't recommended them to him at all.
Not that much of anything could have.
She stopped in the middle of saying something. He couldn't recall what. America was quite an Apparative distance. Severus' back twinged: a side effect of too much aggregate Cruciatus and the onset of age. She tilted her head. "Mum would smack me all the way back to Hogwarts. I'll show you your quarters. I can make you some tea once we're there; I had them stocked yesterday."
"I prefer to shop for myself, Miss Weasley," Severus snapped.
"Certainly," she replied, unfazed by his tone. "But for the moment my provisions will have to do. I didn't want you arriving to empty cupboards."
Severus warred with himself. He wasn't particularly interested in liking this woman. (And woman was what she was. At some point while Severus wasn't looking--probably wasn't in the same country with her--she'd shed the last of her baby fat and awkwardness and morphed into something Severus would have never expected to be under all that, not even if he'd taken time to think about it.)
He was tired, though. She had brown eyes on him, compassionate and steady, but not precisely warm and nowhere near pitying. Her facial features were clean, surprisingly sharp, and gave off an air of patience. Which was surprising given that her hair--lightened by the California sun into a golden-red--was messily pinned back, and her worn shorts and shirt were quite obviously either slept in or hastily thrown on.
He carefully did not look at the way her tan did not seem to stop as her legs--which had become an unseemly length--traveled up into those shorts. Quite clearly, he was experiencing a dangerous level of exhaustion. "Lead the way, Miss Weasley."
He kept his eyes focused on her back.
His impression hadn't been wrong. Ginny--she'd insisted, with sneaky, clever threats that he actually believed she'd follow through on--was patient. Mostly she was patient with the animals, although she could be with her coworkers, so long as they deserved it.
She was never patient with stupidity. Her hexes, which were largely harmless and always amusing from the outside, enchanted Severus. Not that he ever let her catch him being enchanted. That would have been stupid.
Of course, he couldn't exactly call it intelligent that he'd allowed himself to say, "Yes," the night they'd both been working late and she'd said, "Can you swim?"
She'd taken his hand in hers. Hers was warm, callused, and for just a second, he hadn't had the sense to shake himself free. A second had been all she'd needed.
Severus could swim, but it wasn't something he chose to do. Of course, she probably knew that, which was why she didn't give him much choice. A silent flick of her wand--he could never, never anticipate her; it was unsettling, he'd always been able to defend himself--and he was in swimming trunks.
It was dark, the sun having already set, but she said "nice." Her voice, which was smooth and throaty, sounded just a little bit lower than usual. She also said, "You haven't swum with them once," and walked out into the ocean.
He could have turned around and walked back to his research. It was engaging and familiar and what he was being paid to do.
When his chest was sinking into the water, the creatures found him, surrounded him. They spoke in vibrations, filling Severus with silent sound. Ginny's laughter rippled over the waves, caught up in their welcome chorus.
Severus found the right combination of potion ingredients two days before one of the Americans managed to get himself bitten by a shark, which was either good luck or a sign that the Americans now felt the freedom to get reckless, but either way, it worked out well, as there may very well have been death had the situation been otherwise.
Ginny finished applying the Potion, waited for it to take effect and then walked out of the room. She was covered in blood, the brown-red of it clashing with the brown of her skin and red of her hair.
Severus, who was heartily sick of the sight of blood, followed her out.
She said, "Not right now-" but he ignored her, pushing her into his quarters, into his shower, turning the water on even as she was still fully dressed. She said, "fuckfuckFUCKfuck," and he knew she wasn't talking about her newly wet state.
He said, "I'll make some tea," and left her to have her meltdown.
She emerged with wet hair neatly pulled back--too neatly for her--and a pair of his jeans rolled up three times at the cuff. She had left his button down shirt unbuttoned. "Too many buttons," she said, as though her breasts weren't peeking out from the gap left by the opening.
He said, "I have pull-"
She said, "Look at me, Severus."
There wasn't a trace of blood on her, but he could see the places were it would never fade all the same. He reached out and brushed the shirt from her shoulders.