Standing on the outer perimetre of the crater, Ron could do nothing but blink. The enormity of the scene before him sent him into a wordless shock – he'd never before witnessed such devestation. The hole measured fifty metres by twenty, and was at least fourty metres deep. The dragon must have plunged from an immense hieght to score such a gash in the earth's crust – Hermione estimated it would have been travelling at speeds similar to a wizard transported by floo powder.
It had been dead before it hit the ground. Now, the remnants of its bone structure stuck from the earth, like an arrow. It's head had driven straight into the rock, and it's spine curved upwards, grey and desolate, held together by sparse threads of sinew. Even as he watched, it began to crumble in on itself, bits of bone flaking away into the dust-thick air.
"Impressive, isn't it?" said Hermione, beside him. She seemed remarkably calm, but then – she'd arrived there five hours before he had, and she'd had time to become accustomed to the nature of the calamity. She held a note book in her hand, the fly leaf filled with notes and calculations. Tapping her quill against it, she looked askance at Ron. "What do you think?"
"Never seen anything like it," Ron admitted, his voice hoarse. The smell of burnt dragon-flesh made him feel sick. "Did you find out anything about the dragon itself?"
"No breeders have reported a missing one," said Hermione. "It must have been a wild dragon – but it's strange nobody even gave us hint that one was in the area. I suppose it was travelling too fast for people to realise. At least," she added, glancing about, "it was in a relatively uninhabited area."
"No Muggle deaths, then?"
"Not that we can tell. Just – a dead dragon. And a great big hole." Hermione sighed. "It's the sixth time it's happened in the past few months, you know. But the others were only fledgling dragons – the Ministry managed to cover them up without much difficulty. But one this size? I don't know. A couple of members of the team and I managed to cast an illusion over the site to make sure no Muggles would see it – if they came past. Other than that there's nothing we can do, until the Ministry gives word for us to clean the place up."
"That was your cue, Ron," said Hermione, rather snidely. "Isn't it your job to sort these things out? Or should we just fill it in now and forget it ever happened – until the next time a dragon decides to take a nose dive into the middle of a forest?"
Ron ignored her sarcasm. "Is it safe to go down there?"
"Safe enough," said Hermione. "Vincent and Gregory went down there before to clear things up a little."
Ron groaned. "Those two idiots? They've probably destroyed any clues with their meddling."
"I think you give them too much credit," Hermione smirked. "Come on. We can go down there together, now, and see what we turn up."
She set off down the side of the crater, moving carefully through the built up rubble and uneven terrain. Ron had no choice but to follow her – taking a deep breath before he did so. The smog towards the centre was thick, and he wasn't sure it would be healthy to inhale too much of it. Ahead of him, he heard Hermione coughing thickly, and trying to muffle the sound in her hand.
Nearing the end of their fourth term at Hogwarts, Ron had wondered if he and Hermione would finally become an item. She'd grown into a relatively attractive girl – and furthermore, she was the only female who'd shown more than a passing interest in him. But now, nine years later, Ron was thankful he hadn't swallowed his pride and asked her out. Hermione was fine in small doses, but when he spent too much time in her presence, he had to use considerable will power to prevent himself from throttling her. Her all-knowing airs and condescension grated on his nerves.
He was thankful then that she'd gone back to Krumm – they were an odd couple, certainly, but it saved him the trouble of feeling wishywashy every time he and Hermione bumped into each other. Hermione was a taken woman – and, truth be told, Ron was rather enjoying his life as a bachelor. It was better to stay emotionally unattached, he realised; it meant a lot less heartache.
At the base of the crater Hermione stopped, squinting against the smoke to get her bearings. Ron stepped up beside her, puffing. He'd pulled the collar of his robe over his nose in order to filter the smell and the air. They were close to the bones, Ron saw – over head he could just make up the arch of a broken dragon wing, and the threads of sinew which still clung to it, waving in the slight breeze.
"Hot," he remarked.
Hermione wasn't listening. She'd spotted something and was moving towards it, her features crinkled in a frown. Ron wandered after her, making sure not to trip over the littering of scales which scattered the ground.
She stopped just infront of a small mound and peered over it. Ron coughed into his robe, and crouched beside her, straining to see what had caught her attention. Right infront of them, a few metres from the embedded skull of the dragon, was what looked to be a hole – a cave, its opening partially obscured by the clutter of upthrown earth.
"What in –" he began.
"I don't know," said Hermione, taking a step closer.
Ron grabbed her arm. "Wait."
"It looks dangerous. We should get help – don't you think?"
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "I asked the Ministry for help – they sent you."
"I just think it'd be foolish walking in there," said Ron. "The ground here is hardly solid, now, is it? Listen – I'll get in contact with Draco and see what he thinks – and then we can keep going."
"I don't believe Vincent and Gregory missed this," Hermione muttered, unappeased. "And I certainly don't see what help that drunkyard would be."
Ron, despite his loyalties to the Ministry and Harry, couldn't help but mentally acknowledge her point. Draco was a terrible boss – he spent most of his time at home, drinking and ordering new clothes from speciality stores overseas. It was his father's connections which had gotten him the job, Ron was sure.
"We'll see, okay?" he said, tersely, starting to walk back the way they had come.
"If you say so," said Hermione, although she hadn't moved. "But you're always going to him for help, and when has he ever done anything? Always making excuses to get in contact with him. You know, Ron, the way you act around Draco I'd almost think you were sweet on him."
"He's my boss," Ron snapped. "I don't like it any more than anyone else, I promise you that."
Hermoine simply shrugged, her arms akimbo. "Just do it," she said, "and quickly. I suppose even Draco couldn't make things any worse."
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