X Marks the Spot
a/n – Everything in the Harry Potter universe belongs to JK Rowling. I had originally written this story before the events that inspired Fading occurred. This occurs early on 30 Nivember, the day Chapter Two of Fading occurs and has no impact on that story at all.
Chapter One – A Floo Epidemic?
0755 gmt, 30 November 2012, Potter Hall, near Mt. Snowden Cymru
Running late for work, Hermione hurried towards the floo in the main sitting room. Nodding her thanks to Kreacher, she tossed a pinch of floo powder into the crackling flames. Pausing for a moment to catch her breath, she waited until the flames turned the appropriate shade of green and then called out "DMLE portal, Ministry of Magic, London" as she stepped into the flames.
Not a regular floo user, even though it was a cheap and efficient means of travel, since tumbling in and out of fireplaces just seemed … wrong to her, remembering all of the dire warnings she'd received about being careful around fireplaces as a small child, she noticed that a number of the grates she passed seemed to be blocked, with a translucent 'X' that covered the exit.
Dismissing it as some sort of security device that was being tested, Hermione saw that she was rapidly approaching her destination, the DMLE entrance to the Ministry.
Just as she began to prepare to step out, long ago having mastered the proper exit so she'd end up walking out of the floo rather than sprawled on her back on the floor like Harry inevitably was, she saw to her dismay that one of the translucent Xs seemed to cover the exit she was approaching.
Hitting the X with a resounding clang, she bounced back and quickly found herself sitting on her arse, staring at the floo in Potter Hall she'd started from. Not knowing whether to rub her forehead, which had struck the barrier, or her posterior, which had absorbed the impact of her unexpected return, she glared as she could hear giggling behind her.
"Luna, it's not funny," she said as she rolled her eyes. "Apparently there's some sort of floo malfunction."
"Oh, I don't know," the blonde chuckled as she helped Hermione to her feet and cast a quick spell that removed the soot from her robes. "Seeing you bounce back out of the floo was mildly entertaining." Eyes gleaming, she added, "Especially since you skidded at least three feet on your arse when you arrived back."
Before Hermione could respond, Harry rushed into the room. Seeing the two standing there, Harry paused just a moment to kiss both of them on the cheek as he hurriedly said, "Hi. Bye. Got a staff meeting. Love you both" as he threw a handful of floo powder into the flames as he dived into the floo, shouting "Ministry of Magic, DMLE Portal" as he disappeared from view.
Turning and looking at Luna, who was grinning in anticipation of Harry's imminent return, Hermione was just starting to ask the blonde if she wanted to wager on how far Harry would bounce on his return when they were startled by the sound of Harry's voice.
Looking up, they could see Harry's head in the flames as he asked "Aren't you coming?"
Four additional attempts and three minor healing spells to counteract the collection of bruises she was acquiring later, Hermione had finally given up trying to floo to work. Especially since she was late and apparated herself to the official apparition point inside the Ministry Atrium in a vain attempt to save face since Harry went back and forth several times. No sooner had she stepped out of the rune protected circle on the floor that marked the point, her longtime assistant Cara Wellings began briefing her on what was quickly becoming 'a crisis'.
"There are reports from all over the country of floo failures. Mostly in the north, but they range from John o' Groats to Lizard Point. A handful of apparition failures, and one reported portkey incident, but it's almost exclusively floo connections being effected, and it's always witches who are being bounced." Shaking her head, Cara tried not to laugh as a pair of witches in auror robes landed back in the atrium with a pair of loud thumps as they landed hard and skidded backwards.
"Tell me about it," Hermione groused. "Harry went past smug when he finally realized that I was having problems with a floo while he was actually getting here standing up and without ending up in the wrong place as is his usual habit."
"Yes, well, the Minister is fielding questions left and right about whether or not this is some sort of general failure that is just manifesting with witches for now, or someone's testing a means of taking down the floo network and making it look like a prank to cover their tracks."
Sifting through her notes, Cara looked down at the messages she'd taken. "I tried to get in touch with Minerva at Hogwarts, but she's out for the holiday today, I imagine she's either in St. Andrews or Edinburgh. Same with Lavender and her hubby, though I imagine they're still at home."
Something nagging at her, Hermione frowned as she tried to sort everything out in her head as they walked across the Atrium towards the lifts. Certain that she had everything she needed to suss out what was happening, she waited for the lift to arrive as she shuffled the facts around in her head.
As the door opened, she paused as a trio of younger witches, barely out of Hogwarts from the looks of them, exited the lift, laughing and having a good time. The two ginger witches of the group both had a Scottish Saltire painted on their cheeks and Hermione belatedly remembered it was St. Andrew's Day and she'd need to call her father later after …
Stopping dead in her tracks, she closed her eyes and thought back to her unsuccessful attempts to reach the Ministry earlier. Envisioning the translucent Xs, her subconscious helpfully identified it as a crux decussate, or St. Andrew's Cross.
Spinning around, and ignoring Cara's questions, Hermione hurried across the atrium towards the DMLE reserved floo that had bounced her back earlier.
Stepping past the waiting employees, she knelt down and examined the floo connection. Seeing a flash of blue and white as a wizard arrived, she chuckled as the she heard "Alba gu bràth!" in a familiar voice as the incoming traveler arrived.
Casting a quick charm that closed the floo connection and put out the flames, Hermione reached into the fireplace and peeled a blue and white sticker from the center of the fireplace's back wall.
Shaking her head as while she examined the small magical sticker another one appeared to replace it she had to acknowledge the simplicity of the problem. Emblazoned with the familiar Saltire of Scotland, a white St. Andrew's cross on a bright blue background, with the phrase "Alba gu bràth!", Scots Gaelic for "Scotland Forever!" or "Scotland Until the Judgment!" to be precise, with "Happy St. Andrew's Day courtesy of WWW" beneath it in small letters, Hermione had to laugh at the irony.
When Professor McGonagall had shown up at her house in Oxford, all those years ago, to explain to the Grangers that their daughter was a witch, her father and her soon to be Head of House had chuckled over the fact that the Grangers had employed the old Scottish tradition of incorporating a St. Andrew's Cross into a fireplace to keep witches from entering the house through the chimney.
Holding out the sticker to Cara, Hermione sighed. "Apparently the old wives tales have a bit of truth to them," she said as Cara stared at the sticker in disbelief. "Leave it to George Weasley to turn an advertising stunt into a minor crisis."
"But …" Trailing off, Cara stared in disbelief as the flames relit and a wizard dressed in formal robes came stepping out of the floo connection.
"Tell floo registration to have them send out people to each location reporting a problem and remove the stickers. They'll need to cast a couple of spells to keep them from returning, but it shouldn't be too much work to get things back to normal. Apparently the legend about St Andrews cross keeping witches from flying down the chimney also applies to them flooing in through the fireplace."
Seeing her gobsmacked look, Hermione just shrugged. 'The legend never said anything about wizards, just witches."
And a belated Happy St. Andrew's Day to everyone. Alba gu bràth! The part about using St. Andrew's cross to keep witches from flying down the chimney falls squarely under the heading of 'Old Wives' Tale' in folklore, and as we've seen elsewhere in the Harry Potter universe, there's often a reason for those old tales.