Dumbledore checked the device that monitored the wards on number four Privet Drive and saw they were on the verge of failing. "Fawkes, it looks like the Dursleys have yet to return from whatever trip they've taken Harry on, so I'm afraid I'm going to have to recharge the wards myself. While draining, it'll restore them to their former strength, giving them time to return," he explained to his familiar.
Fawkes chirped and leapt from his perch to land on Dumbledore's shoulder, causing him to stagger with a fond chuckle for his friend's playful ways.
"One of these days you're going to knock me over and I'll break a hip, then where will you be?" Dumbledore teased.
Fawkes trilled a confident reply.
"On the floor…" Dumbledore groaned. "That one was bad, even for you," he told the phoenix before they fire traveled onto the Dursley's back stoop.
Dumbledore cocked his head. "I can hear someone inside… so why are the wards so weak?"
Fawkes leapt off to poke around the bushes while the old mage straightened his robe and knocked on the back door.
"What in the-" Petunia began as she opened the back door until she saw the headmaster and frowned. "Oh, it's you. If you're looking for the boy, he's run off."
"Run off?" Dumbledore repeated in surprise.
"Yes," Petunia replied. "Vernon was invited to a company get away for a few days and when we returned, he was gone."
"You didn't take him with you?" Dumbledore asked, surprised and already making plans on how to check the ward strength over the last couple of days to pinpoint when Harry had left.
"Take him with us?" Petunia asked in disbelief. "You said he had to stay to keep the house protected from your kind and what if he did one of his freakish things in public? It'd be all over the news!"
"He's old enough the chance of a bout of accidental magic is quite low unless he's frightened or in danger," Dumbledore assured her, "and I suppose I should have explained how the wards work to avoid confusion. An overnight trip would have been fine, though anything longer than two days can weaken the wards for up to a week or longer."
Petunia nodded curtly. "Well, its moot point anyway, the boy's not here and I have no idea when he left, it could have been the better part of a week for all I know."
"I see," Dumbledore said with a frown, brow furrowed in thought, wondering if it was common for them to leave Harry home alone and making a list of those he could trust to look for the poor boy while also considering how to keep it quiet so unsavory elements of their society wouldn't learn of it and take the chance to harm him. "Have you reported it to the muggle authorities?"
"We just got home late last night and didn't realize he was gone until I went to wake him up for breakfast," Petunia replied. "I wasn't even sure we were allowed to report it to the… muggle authorities," she said dryly.
"That's probably for the best," Dumbledore assured the obviously distraught woman, "I'll see to matters personally and make sure young Harry is returned to you."
"You're… too kind," Petunia said with a sickly smile as the headmaster turned and left. She quickly closed the door and leaned against it. When she'd banged on the door to Harry's 'room' to make him get up and make breakfast there had been no response and she'd worried they'd accidently starved him to death.
Not that it was their fault of course, Vernon had won the drawing and they were given luxury suites for the weekend, they could hardly be blamed for staying a couple of extra days.
Of course, freaks were hardly the type to see reason, but fortunately when she'd unlocked the door and peeked inside there hadn't been a body. The boy must have done something freaky and managed to get out without unlocking the door.
She'd have to remember to punish him for that after the freaks returned him.
The Director turned to the division heads after they'd listened to the recordings. "Before anyone asks, yes what they are saying is likely the truth, there is far more evidence supporting it than not."
"So, what do we need to do?" Justin asked, direct as always.
"That is what we are here to determine," the Director said. "If societies that prioritize the collective over the individual always fail then we must alter our society if we wish it to survive."
"We've advanced as far as we have because we've put the collective ahead of the individual," Dr. Holdren pointed out.
"Not all growth is sustainable," the Director replied, "cancer cells grow rapidly and without limits, but ultimately destroy the host and thus themselves."
"Slow and steady progress is still progress," Filmore said as she leaned back in her chair.
"Point taken," Dr. Holdren conceded with a nod.
"This is not going to be something we can solve in a single meeting; it's going to require research and testing as we evaluate the feasibility of each new idea," the Director said, "all I expect from you at this time is to come up with are initial ideas that we can build on."
The group fell silent as they considered it; the very idea of changing the course of the Institute on which they'd based their lives foreign and a bit frightening.
"The Humanities," Dr. Li spoke up, after nearly a minute of silence.
"Pardon?" the Director said, not following her train of thought.
"The Institute started as a college and one of the things it taught that were discarded was an entire section dedicated to what was labeled 'The Humanities', focusing on things like art."
"And you believe the study of art will assist us in determining a new path for the Institute?" the Director asked with a frown, not seeing a connection.
"It wasn't just art," Dr. Li said, "though studying art was supposed to assist in understanding other cultures. The Humanities also encompassed soft sciences like psychology, sociology, and philosophy. If we are going to change the philosophical underpinnings of our society, we should start with The Humanities, so we have a better understanding of what we are dealing with."
"That does sound promising," the Director said thoughtfully. "Where can we acquire books on these fields?"
"The Humanities wing was closed off, but all the materials were preserved in the basement," Allie Filmore offered. "There's a vent running through it to provide air for medical."
"What condition are the books in?" Dr. Holdren asked.
"I've ensured the basement was kept clean and dry so mold wouldn't get into the ventilation system," Allie replied, "so they should be in perfect condition."
"How is art a science?" Dr. Holdren asked.
"Human response to outside stimuli I imagine," Allie offered with a shrug.
"That sounds useful," the Director decided thoughtfully. "Send a couple of Synths to retrieve a diverse selection of the books available."
The Leewit sat on one of the tables at the shooting range and idly swung her feet back and forth. "Pyrokinesis is dead easy, I ain't met a witch yet that didn't pick up the skill in the time it takes to brew a cup of tea."
"It's that easy?" Sally asked.
"There are a number of talents that are so universal that finding someone without one is considered more surprising than discovering someone has a rare one," The Leewit replied, "and creating fire is one of them. Mum says its cause humans all have a little pyromaniac in them."
"Pyromaniac?" Harry asked curiously.
"Means we like fires," The Leewit replied, "or explosions."
"Who doesn't?" Harry asked with a frown.
"Boring people," Linda told him.
"Right," The Leewit said as they all three ignored Sally's loud sigh. "Anyway, your goal is to melt that steel plate," she said cheerfully, gesturing to a two inch thick steel plate that had been set up in the shooting range just a couple of feet away.
"Okay, any hints how?" Harry asked with a grin as he already knew what her answer would be.
"And deny you the chance to develop new tricks?" she asked with a smirk, feeling his amusement. "Once you've figured out a couple I'll tell you some of the ones I know so you'll have more options."
Harry nodded and studied the three foot square of steel, trying to figure out how to use what he knew of magic to turn it into a puddle. After a quiet couple of minutes he threw out a hand, curling his pointer and index finger, causing the plate to slop to the ground like it was made out of pudding, creating a large puddle of metal on the shooting range floor.
"Wow, and on the first try too," Linda said in wonder as she walked over to examine it.
"That was clumping amazing!" The Leewit exclaimed, surprised Harry had managed to melt it in one go.
"It's not hot," Linda announced as she held her hand an inch away from the slagged plate before cautiously poking it with a finger, jaw dropping in surprise as her finger sank in. "And it's still squishy."
"How did you melt that much steel without heating it up?" Sally asked in confusion as they gathered around it. "Why is it… squishy?"
Harry shrugged. "Magic," he offered.
"It's like mud," Linda said as she sank her whole hand into it with a grin.
"Not what I meant by melt it, but a good trick," The Leewit told Harry, impressed. She extended a couple of lines of Klatha to it to try and get a feel for what he'd done. "You've altered it without heating it up at all, it's a bit like how I can bend metal, just… stronger. A lot stronger."
"My hand's stuck," Linda announced, trying and failing to pull her hand out of the now solid mass of metal she'd sunk it into.
The Leewit reached down and slowly peeled away the metal trapping the Synth's hand. "I can't bend metal from a distance… but then I've never tried before because it's a difficult skill to master in the first place."
"Now what?" Harry asked.
"Now we make sure you can do this again, then we go back to seeing if you can make fire hot enough to melt steel," The Leewit said cheerfully. "I have a feeling that when we get to shaping metal you're going to be a natural."
"How many psychic skills do you have?" Sally asked, fascinated as the few psychics on record had much more limited skills.
"Tons," The Leewit replied, gesturing for Harry to cast his spell again.
Harry took a few deep breaths to center himself before gesturing once more at the metal and slumping like he'd just sprinted for half a block. "Done."
The Leewit quickly reached down and scooped the metal towards the center, like she was building a tower out of sand, having to shore up the sides as they started to slump once more. "You've got this one down pretty easily," she complimented him, resorting to telekinesis to hold the metal in place as it slowly solidified once more.
"It wasn't fire though," Harry pointed out.
"We'll get there," The Leewit said unconcerned, "and a new trick is a new trick, we've just got to get you concentrating on the right thing."
"Okay," Harry said with a smile and turned back to the small steel tower and racked his brain for another approach to melt the steel. "I don't suppose you could give me a little hint?"
"Not when you keep coming up with amazing new techniques when I don't," she told him, proud of his rapid development in the use of Klatha and developing his own techniques. Even if his pattern was feeding him the information, he was still the one who was performing the techniques, his pattern hadn't had to take over even once!
Harry blushed, feeling the heat in his cheeks and trying to force it down. Unable to stop blushing or smiling, he forced himself to concentrate on the problem he was facing. He spun a couple of threads of Klatha into a line and connected it to his target with a flick of his fingers. He felt the history of the metal from recent events stretching back to its forging, molten steel pouring into a mold.
Two things really stood out to him; one, the history of a steel plate was really dull and two, it had a lot more energy in it when it was being poured.
Harry's eyes lit up as he got an idea.
The three watched as Harry opened his palm and the small metal tower melted, the heat and red glow driving them all back.
"Now that is proper melting," Sally said as the pool of melted steel hissed and snapped, igniting any stray dust particles that came in contact with it.
The Leewit found herself holding up Harry. "Time for a break," she told him, "a long one and some lunch."
"Are you okay?" Sally asked Harry as he wavered on his feet even with The Leewit's help.
"That… was tiring," he said weakly.
"Also amazing," The Leewit told him and spun a few lines of Klatha to help support him, "but maybe next time hold off on amazing until you're fully recovered. Which reminds me we have to check in with Calla as it's been a few days."
"Um, but isn't that… a long time from now?" Harry asked, trying not to give away the fact that they were time travelers.
"Yeah, but she meant a few days on our end," The Leewit replied.
"Oh, okay," Harry agreed before his stomach growled, demanding to be fed.
"You really should have tried for something smaller to start," Linda said, "like a small burst of fire or something."
Harry flicked his right thumb and a small flame appeared on the end of it for a second before going out.
"Yeah, like that," Linda agreed.
"That wouldn't have melted steel," Harry replied, blinking as he found himself drifting across the room as The Leewit pulled him along like the world's strangest balloon as she levitated him.
"I was planning on having you work up to steel," The Leewit told him. "Next time I'll be a lot more specific, so you don't strain yourself."
"Okay," Harry agreed, feeling her concern and thinking once more that she was the kindest and most caring person he'd ever met and how happy he was to have met her.
"Could you have melted the steel?" Sally asked as the two Synths followed them to the cafeteria.
"Sure, but not nearly as quickly," The Leewit replied. "It'd probably take me at least a good ten minutes or so."
"So, he's stronger than you?" Sally asked.
"Yes, but he wastes a lot of energy so its hard to tell," the little blonde witch replied. "Trust me, Harry has a lot of power."
"And yet you're the one floating him down the hall," Linda teased.
"I've got more experience," The Leewit replied, "so I waste less power. Also, he's not at his best yet. Give me a couple of months to fatten him up a little and get some training in and it'll be obvious."
"Why's he need fattening up?"
"Before his relative's horrible accident, they used to starve him," she explained, squeezing his hand, knowing he was uncomfortable with the subject.
"Well, if anyone deserved a horrible accident it sounds like they did," Sally said.
"Fire?" Linda guessed with a grin.
"It's a common danger," The Leewit replied as they entered the cafeteria.
Typing by: Abyssal Angel