The first birdsong of the morning lasted maybe three seconds. Then some bugger cast a hex that turned the poor blackbird into something vaguely resembling a week old jelly. It landed with a wet splat on our windowsill.

The sudden silence was broken by one of the guards beside me chuckling and nudging me in the ribs. He pointed to Private Westerhouse, who seemed to be suddenly struggling to keep his breakfast down. I reflected that we were perhaps awful, jaded people to not be suffering the same reactions.

“Where do you think they are?” Robson, my rib-nudger-in-chief said. He was affecting a casual glance out the window, but I could see him paying close attention to a number of likely hiding places. He was a veteran of the Great Re-Indexing, and was under no illusions about the danger we were in.

Outside, the dawn had yet to break, and the fancy occurred to me that perhaps it too was afraid to draw attention to itself. The deserted streets were tidy and clean, and all the houses were dark. Our unit may have been the only free people in the area – or we could be surrounded by families huddled in fear of breaking curfew, and we would have no way of knowing without going door to door.

There was no way we were doing that with the enforcement team or teams out there. We weren’t equipped for that. Outside of curfew we might have a chance to rescue people, as long as we didn’t draw attention to ourselves and obeyed the bye-laws. That was, after all, our mission – to check out as many households as possible for people who may have been overlooked.

We used to joke about finding books down the back of sofas or under children’s beds, but these days we’d as likely find people hiding under there – stowed in a hurry by parents or partners when the enforcers came knocking. The militancy of it all had caught everyone napping.

We should have paid attention to the quips about libraries being the best armouries in the world, filled with every weapon you could need – that of knowledge. We should have paid more attention to the outrage of the inconsistent funding and services attacked.

We should have noticed just how weird our librarians were, or wondered whatever happened to the old spellbooks of the wizards and witches that survived the burnings.

The librarians knew. The librarians kept the old knowledge. The librarians rose when pushed too far – and suddenly silence was not just for the reading rooms and stacks. It was on all of us, and we hadn’t the words to fight back.