Wolves have always haunted this place. Tracks in the snow and the imprint of teeth in a well-cleaned bone. Territory songs in the twilight hours. Just about as long as there have been human ears to hear and mouths to speak, people have been telling stories about wolves in the stretch of land that's now the town of Banff, Alberta.
Here, a grandmother once looked up into the night sky and saw the wolves' own hunting trails in the starry spill of the Milky Way. A prisoner once huffed on his hands and murmured an Old Country tale of the Iron Wolf as the winter wind keened through the mountains.
Fairy tales and folk tales—they're written on the land here and on the people. Ghost stories, and spirit stories, and scientific conjecture.
True stories, all of them.
She's working the bar alone the first time the English guy and the Mountie come in. It's a Wednesday in November, what should be a slow night in the low season, but that little girl went missing two days ago and the place is half-full and restless. Kayla Whitecloud, age eight, smiles up from the front page of every newspaper with her Picture Day hair and purple dress. They found her parents in the woods not far from their home, and whatever happened to them out there was bad enough to bring the RCMP and the reporters flooding into the park like a wave of tense, morbid tourists.
"Wolves," a guy at a nearby table says, jabbing his finger at a copy of The Sun. He's a regular, Gordon Murray—she knows his name from his credit card. "Says right here it was an animal attack. This wasn't just scavenging."
One of his buddies tops up his glass from the pitcher, looking sceptical. "Wolves? You really think?"
"Bullshit." Mitch Paradis twists around in his seat at the next table. "Wolves attacking a kid is one thing, but no way would they go after a couple. It was probably just a bear."
Murray shakes his head. "I'm telling you. I was talking to Ken MacDonald—unofficially. He said the only tracks around were canine. They're just trying to cover it up so no one goes out and..." He mimes cocking a shotgun.
The buddy shrugs and takes a drink. "Canine's not just wolves, though. Everyone's tiptoeing around it, but come on. A couple of Natives just moved from Edmonton? It's got to be a drug thing. Couple of meth-heads drive down with their pit bulls to collect on a debt or something. The Mounties just better sew it up before it drags tourist season down with it."
Stephanie rolls her eyes. "Jesus Christ."
"I take it," says a voice behind her, "you're not on board with that theory."
She whirls around, blushing hot. The guy sitting at the corner of the bar is about her own age, maybe a few years old older. White, English judging by the accent, and probably just off the plane given his gift shop parka. Kind of handsome in a hipster sort of way: skinny, with thick-framed glasses, his bedhead bangs half-covering a jagged scar on his forehead. The woman next to him is something else entirely. Older—maybe late thirties—Native, very butch and very cute. RCMP uniform, though something about it looks different. Maybe a special division or some rank above the brawl-busting and search-and-rescue they usually get around here.
"I said that out loud, didn't I. Sorry—what can I get you two?"
They order, and as she's pulling two draughts, she hears a worried English murmur: "No one's really going to start shooting any wolf-like thing they see, are they?"
She can't help but look back, and the Mountie catches her eye with amusement.
"This is Banff, Potter. The Ministry will give the okay to start shooting residents before they call a wolf hunt."
Two coasters on the bar and then their glasses. For a stupid, naive moment, Stephanie wants to ask if they think that little girl is all right. There was that woman and her son who went missing from Canmore last spring—some psycho ex thing, everyone said—and that family with the little girl who disappeared from Lake Louise the summer before that, back before she moved here. Her father brings the latter up every time she mentions going hiking on her own, but he's the only one who does. That's how these things go, isn't it. So much news coverage you almost get sick of it and then, slowly, nothing.
Instead, all she says is: "If it was an animal, I'd put my money on some sort of hybrid."
The English guy and the Mountie both straighten up. They look at each other. They look at her.
"What makes you say that?" the English guy asks. His voice is too casual.
Stephanie shakes her head, suddenly wishing she'd kept her mouth shut. "I don't know. Like out east. Coyote-wolf crosses or maybe some idiot breeding wolf-dogs."
"Oh." The English guy's smile is relieved. "That's a good tip. We'll keep that in mind."
She knows when she's being patronized, but she doesn't bother to tell him she was a Forestry major—not when she's pouring his drinks. A local couple come up to the end of the bar, and she leans over to take their orders.
Outside, fat snowflakes start to whip by the window. It's better than rain, and the cloud coverage means a warmer night than it might otherwise be, but the sight of it still makes her shiver. She mixes a daiquiri and a rum and Coke on autopilot, and she sends up a brief wish that anyone who's lost tonight finds themselves somewhere warm and safe.
He watches the snow fall from inside the cave. It's the middle of the night, hours after sunset, and he should be asleep but he isn't. Ever since they stopped moving, The Man sleeps in the coldest part of the night and the warmest part of the day, and it's safest not to wake him. It's safest not to be asleep while The Man is awake.
The forest stretches out before him in dark blue shadows. It occurs to him to run, of course, but only in a far-off way that's mostly pretend by now. He remembers his mom and bites his lip hard. He remembers how they went to Ontario to see Grandma and Grandpa. How they went to Niagara Falls, and how Mom wouldn't go up to the edge to look down. How she laughed in a funny way and said to Grandma, "I know it's crazy, but I always have the urge to throw myself off."
He sweeps in the scattered pine needles to make a firm line between Inside and Outside. It's Niagara Falls, and if he steps over, he will fall.
In the distance, the wolves begin to howl. They used to sleep when The Man slept too, but now they're awake all the time, calling to each other. The Man says they're singing about him. He says they're telling all the other wolves to stay away because a Big Bad Wolf lives here now.
The Man talks back to them sometimes, as if they can hear him when he mutters under his breath. He talks to people too, ones who aren't really there, but Matthew has learned to tune out the tones that aren't meant for him. He un-listens when he hears the names of the ones who were with The Man before: the ones he remembers, James, and Katie, and Jordan, and the ones he doesn't know, the ones who came even before that. The Man talks to them all like they're right here.
"March...April...May..." His lips shape the words silently as he counts on his fingers. It had just stopped snowing when The Man took him. Now it's snowing again. Maybe it's October or November. Maybe he's lasted longer than any of the others except for Megan.
It's because he's smart. That's why he doesn't run. The others tried to run, and The Man found them. He isn't stupid like them, and he isn't stupid like Megan, who won't call The Man what he wants to be called and gets hit all the time. He isn't stupid like the new girl, who cries when The Man brings them food and tries to eat grass and dirt instead when her stomach rumbles.
"What are you doing, boy?" the voice growls behind him.
His shoulders hunch and his bladder clenches. "I have to pee."
"Piss then, and get your arse back to bed."
The wolves call out again, and they sound closer this time.
He closes his eyes. "Yes, Papa Fenrir."
Aurors are always a pain in the ass, and Harry Potter is no exception.
She knows who he is, of course, and she'll be damned if she treats him like anything more than the Head of Magical Law Enforcement UK. And to his credit, he seems to appreciate this, and he knows his job, and he isn't one of those isolationists they breed over there. He can't drive, but he can ride in her truck without puking. He can use the phone, and hunt and peck at the computer, and she hasn't had to obliviate any mundanes on his behalf—just the usual course of nosy rookies, techs, and the medical examiner.
But this one's personal for him, and if there's one thing worse than dealing with your own baggage on the job, it's dealing with someone else's.
"No, no, no," Potter says, poring over the map on her desk and yanking out all the pushpins. "He won't be using abandoned cabins. He won't want to be near any supply roads. You're thinking like a human and he's thinking like a wolf—or he's trying to. I know him."
She's tempted to point out that he doesn't have a speck of proof beyond victimology that this even is the guy he thinks it is, but he'd only pull out his notebook of clippings and waste her time again.
"All right," she sighs. "Let's assume you're onto something. He'd need hunting grounds, a source of clean water, and privacy. Our best bet would be to look in real wolf pack territories. I know a guy we can call on that."
Potter nods, looking grimly over the vast expanse of green and blue that is, as he's pointed out several times, the size of a small country. "Would the kids be at risk from the wolves?"
She makes a face. "God, I hope not. Wolves tend to be shy of humans, but they will run off other wolves for trespassing. They don't like competition in their territory."
Potter hums, his fingers tracing over the lines of the map as if he could pluck the monster out like a tick.
"Hey," she says and nudges him with elbow, then nods at the clock. Three weeks and he still hasn't gotten used to the time difference.
"Oh, damn it. Thanks." He brushes some crumbs off his sweater, runs his fingers through his hair, and hurries to the Floo to start the international protocol.
She shuffles some papers on her desk, then decides to take her coffee break at the restaurant so that she doesn't have to listen to Mrs. Potter begging her husband to come home again.
"I am slowly going crazy, one, two, three, four, five, six, switch..."
She sings whenever she can get away with it. Sometimes when The Man is out looking for food, they're mean songs that she makes up herself about him, but when he's here, she has to be trickier.
This time, Kayla joins her. "Crazy going slowly am I, six, five, four, three, two, one, switch."
The Man is crazy. Not funny-crazy but real crazy, like the people who shouted to themselves in the streets in the city. Kayla is from Edmonton—she knows what Megan is talking about.
"You again," The Man mutters to himself.
Kayla looks up, but Megan grabs her chin and pulls it down. She starts braiding Kayla's hair. Matthew is drawing in the dirt with a stick.
"Mm. Mm. Like my little cubs, Lupin?" The Man's head rolls like he's trying to shake water out of his ears. "You should have been their big brother, but oh no, you ran away from home."
Kayla's hair still smelled like shampoo the first time Megan braided it. She leans in and sniffs now, but all she smells is meat and blood and dirt. She opens her mouth to sing again, but outside, a single wolf starts aroooing. It sounds close.
"But you came back. They all come back to me. Naughty boy."
She sees Matthew freeze up at that, but then his shoulders relax when he sees The Man isn't talking to him. Matthew still wants The Man to like him. He's like a teacher's pet. It's her that The Man gives the best food to, though, even though he hits her more too. The Man says she's strong, and he laughed when she said she was going to kill him. He's crazy.
"Ha. Like to see you try," The Man mutters.
A draught sweeps through from deep in the cave, and the dead leaves at the mouth of it rustle.
"Bye," a small voice says, and she looks across the cave to see a small hand folding in a wave at nothing.
The new boy is crazy too.
When he was studying in Regina, he once had the opportunity to examine a man who had been run over by a combine harvester. That's the picture in his mind as he looks over the body of Suzanne Thompson. It isn't the similarities that disturb him, however. It's the differences.
There is something clean about the regularity of blades that he's heretofore never appreciated. Even in the most brutal of stabbings, one is looking at a single blade of fixed length and width and curvature. It's practically mathematical.
Four sets of teeth, undeniably canine in origin. Three of them larger than a coyote but smaller than a wolf, and one larger by far—although the dentition is all wrong for any species of canine in the book. The victim was disjointed, her clothing shredded and the flesh literally torn from her bones.
And the trace analysis...
Here is where he pauses and checks and triple-checks his results again. He stares at the printouts, worrying at the inside of his cheek. Finally, his hand shaking, he picks up the phone and dials the number they left for him. Voice mail.
"Hello, Inspector LaFountain. Ah...this is Ken MacDonald here. I ran those tests we were talking about and...look, it's going to take a few days to get anything more helpful, but...it's human. All the saliva on the body was human. I don't know what else to tell you. Please call me back."
He hangs up and rummages through his desk for his report on the Whiteclouds, but he can't find any of the files. He frowns, a faint headache and a sense of déjà vu coalescing between his eyes. He tries to remember running the tests, but his concentration flits away to coffee, food, home. He must have given the report to Inspector LaFountain already, he decides, and the headache eases.
He covers up what remains of Suzanne Thompson and heads out for lunch.
"Who are you?" he whispers.
It's a cold, grey afternoon and everyone else in the cave is sleeping. Johnny's too old to take naps, though, so he lies awake in the corner, huddled under a smelly blanket.
The stranger crouches down in front of him. He's the colour of water. Not the way Johnny would colour it in a picture, with blue marker, but the way it looks in the bathtub, all see-through and ripply.
"So you can see me," the stranger says, and he looks less scary when he smiles. "My name is Remus Lupin. No, really, it is. Funny name, isn't it? What's yours?"
"Johnny with an H." That's how his mom always says it. She says there aren't enough little boys named Johnny with an H anymore, so that's what she named him. Maybe it's a funny name too. He wipes his nose on his sleeve. It hurts to move his arm. He got bit there. "I want to go home."
"I know," the stranger says quietly. "But I think the cavalry's coming."
He stares in silent incomprehension. Outside, a wolf howls, and the stranger tilts his head back and howls right back at it. Further down in the cave, The Man stirs. Johnny scoots back, pressing himself against the wall. The Man snorts but does not get up, and after a long, terrible moment of silence, he begins to snore again.
Johnny shakes his head until he's dizzy and bursts into tears. "Make them go away. I don't want to do that again. I don't want to do that."
"Shh, shh," the stranger says, and when he touches Johnny's cheek, it's cold and numb like frostbite. "Listen to me. I'm going to tell you a secret, Johnny. Something it took me a very long time to learn—more than a lifetime, in fact."
He wipes his nose again and then his eyes. "...'kay."
The stranger smiles, and this time his smile is sad. "You don't have to be afraid. Greyback...it isn't the part of him that's a wolf that makes him evil. It's the part of him that's a human being. You're not going to be like him. Not ever. Do you understand?"
He doesn't. He stares, and the stranger sighs.
"That's all right. Just try to remember what I said." The stranger stands up without making a sound, and the air warms up just a little. "And Johnny?"
The stranger cocks his head to one side, listening as a wolf yips. "When they come, just close your eyes. Close your eyes until it's over."
They find Fenrir Greyback in the early hours of December 18th. He is lying at the bottom of a deep ravine two miles outside what the survey maps call the Red Rock pack territory. His throat has been torn out, and the ground beneath him is drenched in old blood beneath the new snowfall.
He looks...smaller than in Potter's photographs. Weaker. A battered old man hollowed out by hunger and disease, his blank yellow eyes staring cloudily up at the overcast sky.
"That's him." Potter is staring at the body, lips parted. "That's Greyback. Come on, the kids can't be far!"
He's off on his broom in seconds, leaving Betty barking orders to the constables over her shoulder as she hurries to keep up.
Potter clears the treeline, swooping around in circles as he scans the terrain. "There's a cave just north of you!" The hope in his voice urges her into a full run.
She's trampling over evidence, she can see it—the shallow tracks in the snow, and the drag marks, and the blood—but she runs until she spots the hole in the rocks, and then she skids to a stop as Potter sets down beside her. They take up point, one to each side of the cave's mouth. It's too narrow for two adults to pass through abreast, and she motions for Potter to step back as she draws her wand and flashlight.
Then, preparing herself for the worst, she stoops and steps into the cave.
For a moment, all she sees is a pile of rags and bones and trash. Her throat closes.
Then the rags move, and in the halo of the spotlight, a gaunt little girl raises her hand to shield her eyes. She's pale and filthy, and the corners of her mouth are caked with dirt or blood. Then there's more movement: two more children raise their heads and squint into the light. A fourth lies curled up on the ground, both hands over his face. He's breathing.
She lowers her flashlight. "It's okay," she says. "We're the police."
Potter touches her back, and she steps out to let him in. He's got kids.
She reaches for her radio. "Dispatch. I need an airlift out here yesterday. Our coordinates are..."
The hospital smells like floor cleaner and sick people. The windows are all closed, and it makes her head hurt. They finally took the tube out of her arm so she could eat real food, but none of it tastes very good. Her bed is full of scratchy sheets and the chair is hard, so she sits on Aa-ahs' lap and buries her face in a soft sweater.
"Mrs. Whitecloud," the doctor is saying, "as Kayla's guardian, you'll be responsible for making sure she takes her medication. It's covered by the province, but there's only one pharmacy in Edmonton that provides it, and you'll have to make sure you call in for a refill at least a week in advance..."
Kayla stops listening for a while. Her grandmother rubs her back in slow circles, and the sound of her heartbeat is good. She feels more than hears it when her grandmother quietly asks a question.
"No, no, Mrs. Whitecloud." This is the policeman. "There's no evidence the children had anything to do with that. The bite patterns...that is to say, the evidence just doesn't support it."
Kayla lifts her head. "A man went into the wolf. That's what Johnny said."
The doctor and the policeman look surprised, like they thought she was too stupid to hear them. Then the policeman smiles funny and reaches out like he wants to pat her on the head. But he stops and steps back.
"That's right, Kayla. The man who took you could turn into a wolf."
She shakes her head impatiently. "Not The Man. There was another man. He went into the wolf, and the wolf bit The Man, and then the other wolves took him away. They didn't want him there."
The policeman looks at the doctor and then shrugs. "All right, sweetie."
Aa-ahs rubs her back again, and Kayla closes her eyes and breathes in the good smells of home.
It's one of those nights that's pure Banff. The ski hills are open and the universities have let out for winter break. The bar is packed, and the music's blaring, and all the students on the make are trying to dance without taking themselves out on the snow-melt.
She can barely sort out one face from another in the crowd, but a certain familiar uniform catches her eye, and after a moment's consideration, she takes a bill out of her own purse and slips it in the till. Then she carries two beers out to the corner table.
"On the house," she says. It seems too weird to say for what. 'Serial killer' still seems like a phrase that should be on CSI, not the news.
But the Mountie is even cuter when she smiles.
"Thanks," the English guy says, tipping his glass to her before taking a long, thirsty swallow.
"So I guess you'll both be heading home soon," Stephanie says. "England, right? And...?"
"Calgary," the Mountie says.
"Really?" Stephanie grins. "I grew up in Calgary. I go back all the time to visit my family."
The Mountie seems to brighten at this. "Yeah?" She reaches for her pocket, like she's going to pull out a card, but then she pauses, her gaze flickering instead to the English guy.
Screw it—she can totally do 'discreet.' She grabs a napkin and a pen. "My uncle has a fantastic restaurant, actually." She scribbles down her phone number. "Give me a call sometime and I'll make sure he gives you the VIP treatment. I'm Stephanie, by the way."
The Mountie takes the napkin with a wicked quirk of her lips and then tucks it into her pocket. "Betty."
Stephanie leaves on a high note, hips swinging just a little as she steps deftly around the table, making the rounds to collect a few empty glasses. She pauses halfway around. There's a man sitting alone in the opposite corner, watching the English guy and the Mountie's table intently.
Frowning, she steps into his line of sight. "Can I get you anything?" She's been here long enough to imbue it with a threat of 'order something or get out.'
The man smiles sheepishly, so sweetly that she's almost a little sorry for her tone. He's homeless, she decides. He's got that thin quality, not in terms of weight but in substance. The kind of guy you're used to looking right past in the street. Greyish hair and greyish skin and greyish clothes. In the dim of the bar, he's nearly transparent.
"I'm sorry," he says, "I was just warming up a bit before I head out of town."
English. She wonders for a moment if he knows the Mountie's friend, but she's gotten that herself enough times abroad to quash the question. This guy doesn't look like he could afford a plane ticket to Pearson let alone Heathrow. More likely he just heard a friendly accent on the way in.
"Heading to Vancouver for the winter?" she asks. He isn't carrying any bags, and she hopes suddenly for his sake that he has a car to sleep in or at least a bus ticket in his pocket.
"No." There was that oddly sweet smile again. "No, actually, I think I'm going home."
He absently touches a wedding band on his left hand, and something about the physics of the motion bothers her for just an instant. Then she shakes her head.
"Well, safe journey. If you need anything, just flag me down—and if I need that table, I'll flag you back."
She picks up an empty pitcher and heads back to the bar. By the time she looks back, he's already cleared out.
Home, she thinks, looking across the room and getting a smile from Betty. Home for Christmas. It sounds like a good idea.