The tent flap made the slightest sound. Harry looked up from his parchment and blinked. His mentor was dressed in the fanciest robe he'd ever seen her in, plus she was grinning at him like yet another Floating Castle had showed up over their camp to cause even more trouble. As if six in varying states of intactness weren't enough.
"Potter, get a shower and a fresh robe. Grab your rune enlargements and models when you come to the common tent," Madam Spurl said.
"New group joining the team? Can you get Aupito to brief them on the runes?"
"No skiving on this. Your Master's Defense starts in thirty minutes."
"I sent out the call six weeks ago after you rejected presenting the floating runes and insisted you had to work out the power-system array. Horse-feathers. Understanding an ancient, variable levitation and flight system, then translating it into Elder Futhark, is worth a mastery."
"I'm not master-level in..."
"Potter, you've put six, seven years into this already. You started working on these questions while a student at Hogwarts, then invested more time after you graduated. Nineteen is young to be a master, but you've deconstructed a runic array of beyond mastery-level, then reproduced it in a different runic language. How accomplished do you think a master needs to be? Now get showered."
Fifteen minutes later, Harry was half-blind from the sunlight when he stepped out of his tent for the first time in many days. He bumped into his godfather, Sirius Black.
Sirius had been looking up at the six Floating Castles. Even from the tent city below them, they made for an impressive sight.
"You knew about this," Harry said. Then he saw Sirius wasn't alone.
"Hi, Elaina." Harry held off from mentioning just how pregnant she looked, but Elaina Black looked like she was preparing to have a dozen children with Sirius, not just triplets.
"Good morning," Elaina said. The New Zealand accent always sounded exotic to Harry.
"I heard about the Defense last week," Sirius said.
"And you said nothing?"
"If there's someone who appreciates a good prank, it's me, kid."
Harry groaned but couldn't dispute this.
"Now I've spent many a dinner time listening to your runes jibber-jabber. You're going to explode their minds, but in a good way. So breathe."
"Then maybe stop sweating so much. I'm not sure your heart can take all of it." Sirius was really enjoying this.
"I just wish she'd told me."
"Then you'd be like this for weeks, not just a few minutes."
"No, I wouldn't..."
"Do I need to recall a few events from your life? I remember hearing, after the fact, about your anxiety over a fake Goblet of Fire..."
"Fine," Harry said.
Sirius went inside the common tent first, with Elaina, then Harry followed behind.
Harry enlarged the objects he'd had in his robe pocket, set them on a table at the front of the room, then turned around.
The main room was already overfull with people. A Master's Defense didn't need this many masters…
Harry was pretty sure that the non-descript couple in the last row were actually the Flamels.
He saw a few other people who'd been to the Floating Castles sites before. Some Potions Masters, some Masters of Defense, quite a few Charms Masters. They wouldn't be allowed to vote on Harry's defense unless they also had Runes Masteries.
Madam Spurl was playing games. Perhaps showing off. Perhaps organizing some other project while claiming this was all for a single Master's Defense. She was up to something.
Then the woman herself entered the tent and got everyone into seats after another Extension Charm enlarged the common area to a far larger than normal size.
"Welcome friends and colleagues. You should find this talk on what we've learned about the Floating Castles – and how we can apply this knowledge to better understood runic languages – as fascinating as I do. My apprentice, and friend, Harry Potter."
Harry thought about poking a little fun at his mentor, but decided against it. He was, without knowing it in advance, now among adults arguing for his right to be listed as one of them.
"Good morning. Seeing the Floating Castles got me interested in floating buildings in general. Before we started working out the magic of the Floating Castles, there were at least twenty different existing runic arrays for how to make a structure float, plus thousands more to make smaller objects do the same. What we saw when we started unraveling the Floating Castle didn't match any of them. Not one."
Harry turned to his enlarged runic transcriptions. He explained the runes involved and where they had been carved in the different Floating Castles. "You must also recognize that they don't work like any other runic array that is still extant. This may have been how things were done thousands of years ago, but we have lost any of those formulae."
Harry could see nods from the people he knew to be Rune Masters in the audience.
"Leaving aside the power array necessary to make a building float, which is a topic I am still working on, we managed..."
Madam Spurl stood at that. "Harry is being modest. He was the one to pursue the question. He was the one to make the dozen or so leaps of logic needed to get us all where we are. He'll downplay his role, but we wouldn't have this information if he hadn't been intrigued by this topic. Continue..."
Harry nodded at her. He chose to say nothing about her interjection because she wasn't wrong.
"Let me show you how it works and why it's different." He pulled a model of the best-preserved Floating Castle off the table behind him. He'd brought it in shrunk down.
"Students at the local youth school made the model and gave it to us after a tour of one of the Floating Castles. I took it apart long enough to carve in the runes in Elder Futhark. This is what it does now."
Harry tapped the model with his wand and infused some magic into it. The model rose up four feet off the table and began a lazy clockwise circle around the room above the heads of the seated observers.
Harry stayed quiet while everyone gawked.
Yes, magic like this was something, especially to those who knew how impressive it was.
These effects were possible now, but they couldn't be applied to an object this small. The arrays were just too numerous and extensive to carve on a toy.
When the model completed its circle overhead, Harry reached up and tapped the gently floating model with his wand. It dropped into Harry's empty hand.
"That's how an ancient rune system can be understood and suggest how we can advance our own runic arrays," Harry said. "Questions?"
To no one's surprise, the questions came hard and fast after that.
Harry was a lot more prepared than he'd expected. Though Madam Spurl had had him doing new employee introductions to the odd runes used here for the past eighteen months... Harry had heard almost all of these questions before and had worked up good answers to nearly all of them.
Spurl had had him practicing for his Master's Defense for quite a long time already...though Harry hadn't even suspected.
She was sneaky even when she didn't seem sneaky.
Harry supposed he wouldn't have to do new employee introductions after this as someone else would need the experience to prepare for their own future Master's Defense. That was fine with him.
The Defense ended three hours after it started, though some in the audience had ducked out earlier. There was no way Elaina Black's bladder could take three hours – and Harry understood. He hadn't loved talking for most of those three hours.
Harry drank down all of the water he could get his hands on. His throat felt like some kind of low-level fire.
Perenelle Flamel came over then. "Try a freezing spell on a bit of the water. Ice chips work better for me after I've had to lecture the lunk I married."
Harry smiled, but he also cast a freezing spell and crunched up the ice between his teeth.
He nodded and appreciated the relief.
"I've been into two of the Floating Castles now. Since we came for this, I should be able to talk Nick into a third one. Fascinating. I wonder how much other old magic is still out there. To be my age and still find things to wonder at… A whole city, a whole nation built around these Floating Castles."
Nicholas Flamel stepped over then. "So you've decided to build one."
"What?" Harry asked.
"No one deconstructs a forgotten, ancient language, then reconstructs it in a usable form, to the degree you have without a greater purpose. You proved your work with the model, but I don't think you'll stop there."
"Well, the idea did occur to me. But it isn't doable until after I, or someone else, works out the power array."
"Oh?" Perenelle asked.
"That I am close on, I think. It's what I intended for my Master's Defense."
"Use it as confirmation of your status. Drip out a new idea every year or two for the next decade and you'll cement your professional reputation."
What she left unsaid was, beyond your reputation as the Boy-Who-Lived.
Harry found he liked the advice. Harry the Rune Master. Harry the Cursebreaker. (All cursebreakers who valued longevity and personal survival went for a mastery in a relevant field before specializing in some type of cursebreaking.)
Madam Spurl ambled by. "Ah, Harry. The masters I assembled for your defense are meeting in another tent. I'd say it was a lock. So, you get six weeks off as a reward..."
"So stop carving runes into models that school children gift us. Go and build something on that land you talk about whenever you drink too much. Six weeks."
"But I haven't worked out the power array..."
"I didn't say build a mansion. Build the shed. Build a stable. Go put some of the ideas you've got packed into your skull into use. Then you'll stop obsessing and we can really start cracking some of the mysteries of these things… Like how they built an entire city in the air – or a whole country – yet remained basically undetected for hundreds or thousands of years. That's what I want to know."
Then Madam Spurl was off to greet yet another of her former apprentices or colleagues. Harry was pretty sure all the masters on his panel were directly tied to her. He really shouldn't worry…
But building something.
He felt the smile begin and grow across his face. He had to be shining like some newly strengthened sun on a perfectly clear day.
"Well, I'll expect an invitation to see whatever barn or stable you build," Nicholas said as he walked up. "You're still building the home yourself?"
Harry nodded. "Not for a while, not while the Floating Castles are up there and so little understood. Eventually."
"Good," Perenelle said. "Always dream big. Any dream, big or tiny, can consume you for years. Why waste that time to dream small?"
Six weeks later
Sirius walked past the wardline alone. "Where's my favorite mad inventor?" he called out.
Harry shouted from down a slight hill to the back of where the hall would eventually stand again.
Sirius remembered out-buildings back there when James was a kid. He remembered that Harry had cleared the ruins when he was a kid. Now there was a stone building that wasn't a hall nor stables nor anything else really.
"Wardline's different. You spent a lot of time there?" Sirius asked.
Harry looked up. "Elaina not coming?"
"I knew you liked her more than me..."
Sirius shrugged. "She's safe to portkey but the experience makes her nauseous for hours after."
"That sounds like me on any regular portkey," Harry said.
"Some people just react badly to them. So that wardline?"
"I had to do a bunch of wardlines in New Zealand. I could have redone the ones here in my sleep."
Harry pointed to the strange thing he was fussing over. It was the color of the stone Harry had reclaimed from the prior Godric's Hall, but the beam was extremely long, about as tall as Harry's shoulder, and as wide as maybe two people standing chest-to-chest. "What do you think?"
"I have no idea what it is."
"It's how I'm going to rebuild Godric's Hall."
Sirius just shook his head. "Still not seeing it."
Harry tapped first one brick then another, rather like how one accessed Diagon Alley. Suddenly that end of the odd rectangle expanded to be the height of three or four men and wide enough for a dozen to walk through. It also now had a very large door which Harry opened.
"Hidden room made to look like building material?"
"And it holds some secrets about the wards and a few other things."
"What are you keeping in there… Oh, you finally figured out how to secure everything. I'd worried about that."
"I'll need your help moving a few things before I let guests on the land."
"Be glad to."
"Let me get some water first. It's sunnier out here than I was expecting."
Sirius accompanied Harry back to the tent. They both had plenty of water and caught up on recent news, mostly of the pregnancy variety.
A few minutes later, Sirius asked the question that had bothered him for some time. "You got your mastery so why are you inviting the masters to your land?"
"Perenelle Flamel's idea. I figured out the power array that I actually wanted to show off."
Sirius didn't quite understand how that all connected, but he knew Harry would eventually explain himself. "Did you get any rest at all during your vacation?" Sirius asked.
"I was having too much fun," Harry said.
"Who else is coming, any of your friends?"
"Cedric is bringing his wife, Alicia. And Neville pushed off whatever he was doing so he could be here."
"What about your ex?"
Harry looked sour for a second. "You always call her that."
"Is it not true?"
"Hermione and I dated for about three weeks when we were sixteen. We're friends. But she's at a work thing in Milan."
"I'm not friends with any of my ex's," Sirius said with a smile.
"She drove me batty. I drove her mad. We're friends, but an hour a day max."
"Any other pretty little women I should know about?"
Harry smiled like a brilliant, awful idea had hit him. "I didn't spend all my time in New Zealand hanging around the landlord's daughter like someone I know."
The current Elaina Black had once been Elaina Podridge, daughter of the landlord of the Crooked Lintel where Sirius had stayed a few years back while Harry spent part of a summer camped out in New Zealand tinkering on three different Floating Castles.
"Well, you look good. You may not have slept, but your brain seems...fine," Sirius said with a definite tightness to his face.
Harry nodded. It was good to have a bit of blackmail on Padfoot. Like the fact that a post-marriage blood test at Gringotts proved Elaina was the descendant of a disowned Black who'd scurried off to New Zealand long ago.
Sirius had married his own seventh cousin twice removed or something. Keeping it in the family… Should anyone mention that fact, the man would show off just how loudly he could howl.
"I'll graciously accept your surrender, Padfoot, and even pretend you didn't radically shift the conversation we were having."
Sirius shook his head.
"Okay. I'm glad to have a better place to keep some inconvenient things."
"He calls You-Know-Who inconvenient."
Harry opened a door to one of the rooms in the tent that stayed permanently on these grounds.
There were three odd bits of stone inside.
"I still can't believe this is all based on an idea you had years ago..."
"That was modified a little by my Ancient Runes teacher, then reworked entirely by Old Spencer not long before he died. The whole thing was in no way safe, but that's magic for you."
Harry pointed one out to Sirius and Sirius used a levitation charm on it. Harry brought along the other two.
Harry led outside then to the vault he'd constructed and hidden inside what looked like a stone beam.
"Stone will hold these nasties better than metal?" Sirius asked.
"Plus new runes. Plus a taboo on a few words. Plus some wards. Plus, plus, plus."
"Remember that the Dark Idiot had cursed the Defense Professorship?"
"I made up a little ritual that uses a few words to power more limited taboo-curses. So the one you've got is a Potter Family relic called the Pillar of Mischief..."
"So, this is what happened to Peeves?"
Harry nodded. He'd done quite a lot preparing to tackle Voldemort, including making off with a poltergeist. "If asked correctly, he can answer questions and help plan pranks."
Sirius began laughing so hard his levitation charm almost failed.
"I've got the Pillar of Lies."
"I don't remember… You mean Dumbledore's ghost."
"Yes. Then this last one is the Pillar of Darkness."
"The Dark Idiot."
"Yes," Harry said. "Forever entombed in a bit of stone."
Harry directed Sirius inside the secret entrance he'd opened in his stone beam. Harry pointed at one spot on the floor where there was additional carved stone in place. There was space for a dozen, or more, of these pillars in this room.
"I've put the instructions for how to maintain all of this in the Potter Grimoire."
"And the instructions for creating one?"
"I'll have a magical painting done of myself. I think I'll hold onto those secrets myself."
Sirius nodded. Then they put the pillars down where Harry had set up little bases.
"And they're good? They're safe?"
Harry had to shrug. "I'll do the yearly maintenance on them. I know how to exorcise them, if I ever needed to, but I'd have to take them well out to sea first if the plinths were breaking down. For now, I'd prefer to keep these things out of the hands of necromancers."
Sirius nodded. "They might not be public, but they certainly exist somewhere."
Walburga Black, Sirius's mother, had found one a few decades earlier to turn her dead son Regulus into some kind of monstrous ghost-like thing, a revenant. Neither mentioned that out loud as the pain was still ripping up Sirius's insides.
Harry led his godfather outside and sealed up the door. Then he shrunk down the front portion so it resembled just an oversized stone beam.
"I know it was more than six weeks' work. Will anyone else recognize that?" Sirius asked.
"I'll save the amazing part for the demonstration later."
"I can wait. Now show me the house plans I'm sure you've been tweaking."
"Now that I can have a Floating Castle of my own… You better believe my plans changed."
Madam Spurl showed up an hour before her invitation suggested, but Harry hadn't been completely unprepared.
She demanded to see what Harry had built but seemed displeased to see a beam, not an outbuilding or a stables or something else.
"So you built a bigger model? What are you going to do about power?" she asked. "We'd need a circle of three or four wizards to get it off the ground, or did you build a battery that charged off the ley lines, or..."
"I finished reverse-engineering how the Floating Castles pulled power out of the air. I made a working version in Elder Futhark," Harry said with a wide smile. "This is now my proof of concept."
"Well, Merlin eat my spleen with a firewhiskey chaser. How!"
Harry laughed. This was perhaps the very first time he'd actually surprised her.
"I'll talk about it at the demo..."
"Let me save some surprises. You arranged a Master's Defense on simple work. This is the stuff I would have chosen to use."
"And you just needed a few weeks longer to concentrate?"
"Fine. But I am going to pick your mind. And you are writing up a version of this for some journal."
"I invited one of the editors at Magic Today." Lisbeth had been a Gryffindor a few years ahead of Harry, but she had been very taken with Hermione's Gryffindors-only lecture series.
"And they're turning up expecting a party, not a complete revision to the basic warding theory. All right. Fine. Where's the firewhiskey?"
"At the shops, Madam Spurl."
"I'll plot something evil against you, Potter."
She hobbled away, but she was in an excited mood overall.
"She's always plotting some evil," Harry said to himself.
Harry walked back to the wardline for the next guests. He expected the Flamels and Neville and Cedric and quite a few others, plus Madam Spurl's hand-picked masters.
To Harry's surprise, Luna Lovegood was the next one to walk through the wardline. His last information was that she was hunting for some fangy, scaled, slobbering thing in Brazil.
He was also pretty sure she wasn't included in the wards he'd set. He had relaxed them for the day, but had he relaxed them that much?
"Found your beastie?" Harry asked.
"This is why I prefer hunting for creatures in cold, snowy climates. The snow can hold tracks pretty well. I don't love trying to sift the jungle floor for information. So, no luck so far."
"Been back long?" Harry asked.
"Just now really. But I heard about what you were planning..."
Harry pointedly didn't ask about how she'd heard. He had his own ideas about her sources of intelligence but felt no inclination to confirm them. Prophecies and prophets and all that made his skin crawl more than a little.
"I also heard you've been funding some new books," Luna said.
Harry looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded. "Last year I extended an offer to Hogwarts, which they accepted, for a Restored First Edition of The Dark Forces."
"They control the rights to all Quentin Trimble's books. We'll reuse the polished diagrams from the fourth edition, but we're going to back to the original, if corrected, content of the first, even the items that might scare a new muggleborn stumbling upon a copy. It was what helped to set me on my path."
"I've been using a lot of advice from that book," Luna said. "I'm still in one piece."
"Nice and simple. I still don't know why the book changed. So are you heading back to find your beastie?"
"We have a line on the wizard who crossbred a Pacific selkie, a magical jaguar, and an Amazonian centaur together. This is a man who needs arresting, if we can find him. I'd go back for that or because of all the strange fruits they have. You know how I like my pudding..."
"If you mention strange fruits to Neville, he'll demand seeds or cuttings or something."
"Just so happens I brought some."
Harry didn't actually ask her why she'd come. He almost didn't want to know, particularly if something interesting and awful was going to happen. Like that time she'd obliquely forewarned him he was going to be kidnapped.
Better not to know too far in advance.
A few of the masters from Harry's Master's Defense arrived so Harry excused himself.
He could feel Luna's eyes on him.
He wondered if she was interested in him.
He wondered if they could come to tolerate each other's quirks. Luna, for all her odd sources of information, probably already knew the answer.
Harry spent the next hour greeting people and sending them to a tent he'd set up with drinks and snacks. He'd kept a mental list of who he was still awaiting. When the list finally emptied, he walked into the tent and greeted everyone again. Then he invited them outside to the demo area.
He could tell people were unimpressed by a stone beam. A few cast spells against it, like ward probes, and looked surprised. What Harry had done to make this was the culmination of years of thought about wards.
It wasn't outwardly impressive. But it had enough tucked inside it, without even mentioning the pillars he'd hidden inside it, to prove he'd earned his Rune Mastery.
Harry stood next to the beam and used a Sonorus on himself. "The Floating Castles currently tethered in New Zealand are the biggest magical structures we know of – and also the least understood. We don't know how they circulate air to keep interior rooms from becoming foul. We don't know how they support internal fireplaces. We don't know how their water supplies and water vanishing works. None of it is like the systems we use in magical buildings today – or even when Hogwarts was built."
Madam Spurl looked unhappy at all that, but she had to nod her head. They just didn't know.
"For my Master's Defense, I explained how the levitation and propulsion systems worked, along with a version in Elder Futhark. Today I am pleased to announce that I've worked out how the Floating Castles, which are rarely if ever on the ground, maintain power without access to ley lines."
He could see more people casting spells on the stone beam. He saw a few people asking questions to others standing close by.
"This stone beam is a highly modified and warded structure I built using Elder Futhark runes, based on ideas from the Floating Castle. Normally lifting something like this with runes would require the continuous input of magical energy, same as a levitation charm. This beam, with its weight and level of magical power required, might require four people keeping up a ritual circle."
Harry walked down, conducted a quick ritual, and tapped one part of the beam with his wand. The stone beam rose up in the air without a wobble.
"I've tested it during the last few weeks. I've had it up and down hundreds of times, for hundreds of hours overall, with a magic cost of maybe a few levitation charms. I'm going to rebuild Godric's Hall, my family's home, on beams like this. My home will be able to sit safely on the ground. It will also be able to float and fly. It'll serve the House of Potter for centuries to come."
He waved his wand and a series of parchment rolls opened up and hung in mid-air. "This is the basic idea of how the power draws have been shifted. They're no longer dependent upon earth and its magically-rich ley lines. They now work off the air and the much less dense magic available..."
The questions and explanations lasted well past nightfall.
Luna Lovegood was the very last person to leave, although she asked Harry to dinner the next night before she crossed the wards. Harry thought for a moment, then said yes.
A/N: Thank you for reading. I had such a good time writing this story about a curious, adventurous Harry Potter who will become famous for more than being the Boy-Who-Lived. I'm especially glad that readers enjoyed it.