There are some nights you remember forever. That night when I returned from Witchbridge was one of those nights I would remember for the rest of my life. I returned to the school at about 7pm after having to endure yet another checkpoint on the way back. I felt relieved to have made the right decision in abandoning the supply run. The MSF group who stopped me on the way back were more polite and professional than the previous group of thugs. No doubt Byars had paid them a visit as well and were now a little more polite about the way they conducted themselves.
I called Hermione, Gary and Luke into a meeting in the staff room. I will never forget her eyes that night as I explained what I had learned from my trip. They were vague and cloudy as though a shield had been placed over them preventing the outside world from penetrating inside her. She revealed nothing about how she was feeling not even to me.
Luke was especially agitated at the news I had brought from Witchbridge. I didn't understand why he was so worried about this development since this was hardly the first time we had found ourselves in the sights of the Dark Establishment. The only real difference this time was that they had Hermione's face emblazoned across wanted posters up and down the country. They had done to our organization what we had tried to avoid. They had presonified our fight using Hermione as the poster girl. They were putting a face on the fight against us and filling the minds of the general population with bile and venom.
"Look!" I pleaded with him for the third time since I had returned. "This is just another clamp down the ministry is putting in force. We've been through them before and if we keep our wits about us then we will get through this one."
Hermione sat alone with the poster I had brought back in her hand staring at it intently. Occasionally she would place her fingertips delicately on the photograph as if the girl in the moving picture was someone she used to know. An old friend who had disappeared from her life never to return. I sat next to her halfway through the course of my briefing and during the conversation that followed I tried to speak directly to her but all of my advances were rebuffed. It was almost as if she wanted to keep herself locked in this spiral of self pity and loathing that she had descended into in the past twenty four hours since she had executed Goldstein. Whatever she was going through she was going to do it alone whether I wanted her to or not.
"Our supply situation is still quite low," added Gary, "but we do have enough to maintain operations for several more days. However, I would recommend that we keep our heads down for a bit until this blows over. Keep our remaining supplies for defending headquarters should we need them. Our food stocks will hold out for almost a month-"
"You mean bury our heads in the sand and hope this problem just goes away!" shot Luke almost angrily. "And what happens if at the end of the month when we are forced to come out of hiding we find the countryside to be crawling with a newly created Ministerial army hunting us down? No, we need to act now while they're still unorganized."
"I agree with Luke," I added. "We do have to act fast on this."
"What did you have in mind?" asked Gary somewhat weary of the idea of launching further operations with dwindling supplies and in the face of a new clamp down.
In my mind I had been toying with an idea ever since I got back from Witchbridge earlier that day but only now did I decide to voice it to the others. "A bomb!"
"A bomb?" repeated Luke quizzically. "What's the target?"
I went on to explain, "The recruiting centre in Witchbridge. It opens tomorrow but right now it is still the public owlery. We bomb it tonight before it becomes operational."
"Well how exactly is that worth our effort?" asked Gary who was eager to point out an obvious flaw. "Just because the building is gone doesn't mean their recruiting drive will be affected too much. They will just change the venue to somewhere else."
"You're missing the point," Hermion said calmly as she placed the poster down on the chair beside her. Her sudden interruption silenced all of us as we waited for her to continue. She stood up and turned to face the three of us with her arms comfortably folded as she spoke. "If anybody considering joining up with the Ministry is afraid that they will be bombed then they will probably reconsider and stay home. We need to make people afraid of helping the MSF and the Auror Office. We are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the people because the Dark Establishment controls the flow of information. Every act we carry out the Ministry puts a twist on it in the subsequent report in the Daily Prophet. The trouble with lies like that is that after a while, once you've told them enough times, you start to believe them. There are people out there now who are starting to believe the propaganda they're spinning about us and considering joining up to fight us. We have to discourage them. The way to do that is to make them afraid of us as a terrorist organization."
Her words cut through the air like cold daggers thrown at the three of us. Listening to her we each embarked on a train of thought that lead to a dark place. I glanced at Luke and saw that he was listening to her and bizarrely for him he had set his ego aside and was silently standing in agreement with her. Gary on the other hand had turned white with horror. He stood open mouthed in disbelief at what he was hearing as Hermione continued;
"We still have the advantage here at the moment," she said. "They don't know if we are four people or four thousand. They don't know where our centre of operations is because we have attacked our targets across a wide area with no descernable pattern to identify and localize us. They are afraid of us and that's why they are turning us into this monster in the press. They want to rally the people against us and turn themselves into the heroes. We cant fight that on the same level. So we need to change tactics. We aren't just targetting high ranking officers anymore or individuals who have done something special to earn our attention. We are now targetting anyone who has or is helping the Death Eaters. From their officers down to their most subordinate members. Anyone! The gloves are coming off."
"Listen to yourself!" barked Gary over her voice that had barely changed its tone. "You're talking about spreading terror into the lives of ordinary people and not just the Death Eaters. That's-that's sick!"
"Think of it more as a necessity given the current situation," I said jumping in. It was at that moment I felt a guilty lump appear in my throat. I had been so quick to defend Hermione out of my feelings for her that I had failed to truly appreciate the enormity of what she was saying. Yes - we were planning on spreading an element of fear to the general population and several years earlier that might have seen like a truly dispicable act to even contemplate. But as I sat there in that room at that precise moment it made perfect sense to me. No it was more than that. At that point I felt it was a necessity. In my thoughts I tried to justify it with the fact that the Dark Establishment were forcing us to take this action but I remembered one of the things Dumbledore used to tell us when we were at Hogwarts; there is always a choice in every situation, it's simply a case of looking hard enough for the right answer which is not always the most obvious one.
Gary was still not convinced. He was passionately committed to his own idea of how we should have proceeded from that day onwards. He turned to me for support but only found my silence as his reply.
"I'll have no part in this," he declared.
"I don't understand why you're so upset," said Luke whose agitation had subsided now that we had a plan of action to undertake. "We are still talking about hitting an MSF target just like every other one we have ever hit."
"It's not the target itself," he replied. "Its the reasoning behind its selection. He who studies evil..."
Gary didn't need to say anymore. He simply dissmissed himself from our company leaving us in stunned silence. This was indeed a first for us. Although we'd had differences in opinion before this was the first time that it had boiled over to this point. I found it hard to truly understand Gary's problem. At the time I felt that he really didn't understand the situation we were faced with. He had been the one who had clung onto the romantic notion of being a freedom fighter as opposed to a terrorist longer than the rest of us had and I felt he was still quite naive about the whole thing.
"I'm going to go and get ready," said Luke after a short pause and soon he too left the room leaving me and Hermione alone with the photograph that was still magically looping back on itself. The girl in the image was a stark contrast to the woman who sat next to me. I tried several times to open my mouth to speak to her but each attempt failed as I knew she didn't want to talk to me. I had to feel like I was doing something even if it failed to get a response. I just couldn't leave it there but instead I found my mouth unable to form the words I so desperately wanted to come out. In the end I didn't have to. At some seemingly random point she decided to speak.
"She has no idea of what's ahead of her," she uttered in a tone so low it was almost a whisper.
"None of us did," I added while I myself thought back to a more innocent time before Voldermort came to power.
"Let me ask you something, Brian? If, back then, you knew what was going to happen what would you have done differently?"
I had never really thought about it before. I tried to come up with some profound and awe inspsiring answer but I found none anywhere in my thoughts. Instead I found myself asking a question rather than giving an answer.
"What would you have done differently?" I asked.
She sighed before answering, "I would have told Anthony Goldstein to stay at his post rather than wander off from the castle's defences."
I felt relieved that she was finally talking about Goldstein and almost excitedly I jumped in with, "You can't blame yourself what happened with Goldstein. You did what had to be done."
"No, you don't understand," she said looking at me properly for felt like the first time in ages. "We knew we were doomed. We were all prepared for the final battle. We were ready to die. If Goldstein hadn't let them through our defences then they would have had to attack the castle directly." I wasn't sure where she was going with this until she finally uttered, "Perhaps I could have died with the others?"
"Is that what you want?" I asked, stunned by her answer. She didn't reply verbally but her eyes said it all. It was as if her soul had been torn into pieces and then crudely put back together so that it was never whole again. For me this begged the question; "What about us? Do you regret that?"
"We should never have happened," she said coldly and without feeling as though she were giving her opinion on some book she had read and then disagreed with. For me it felt like the floor was giving way beneath me and I was being swallowed whole by the Earth. She stared at me with eyes that dared for me to challenge her. She seemed to be looking for a fight specifically with me but I wouldn't entertain the notion.
Like a wounded animal I stumbled out of the room, my heart hanging low and heavy in my chest. Even if it was only to take my mind off Hermione's rejection I threw myself into the task at hand; bombing our target in Witchbridge. With Gary refusing to take part it was down to me and Luke.