A/N: Written for the "Anywhere But Here" challenge on the omniocular genfic community on Livejournal.
There were so many rumours about the Englishman, no-one knew which of them to give credence to.
But it was natural there would be rumours about a stranger – especially one who was polite, but so reserved no-one could get to know him well; one whose grey hair seemed oddly mismatched with his young-looking face; one who would be seen grimacing as he drank from a 'medicinal' hip flask that he adamantly refused to share; and one who appeared and disappeared at odd moments, as if by magic.
All they had been able to find out for sure about him was that he was interested in wolves. And in the Banff National Park over the last eighteen months, that had come to be regarded as a highly dangerous interest.
"Three families gone missing now, eh?" a barmaid in downtown Banff told him with ghoulish relish. "People thought they just got lost and froze to death, or maybe were attacked by the bears, but the latest one – well, the kid's gone and they found her parents torn to shreds. And they say the teeth marks on the bodies were like wolf jaws, eh? We thought our packs were all right. Wolves don't ever attack people normally. Makes you worry, eh?"
"Like wolf jaws, but not quite the same?" asked the stranger with a sharpening of interest.
"Yeah. Bad for tourism, eh?"
The Englishman smiled – a strangely twisted smile. He nodded to himself as if this had merely confirmed a suspicion. "Yes. Yes, I suppose it would be. Well, I won't let it scare me away."
Remus Lupin would have found the Park beautiful, had he known any longer how to find things beautiful. He might have found its lonely wilderness peaceful, had what brought him there left him room for peace.
As it was, he saw the wide open spaces simply as territory to be quartered and quartered again, the mountains only as obstacles to his goal. He had long since given up hope of persuading the wizarding authorities to take him seriously. As far as they were concerned, Fenrir Greyback was long dead, a casualty of the second British wizarding war from the side whose losses were seldom mourned. He had, after all, been reported and recorded as such.
Remus was not convinced. In the ten years since the fall of Voldemort he had obsessively followed a trail of bitten children across Europe, lost it more than once, and then – when he had almost begun to hope that someone else had given truth to the records by killing Greyback – picked it up again in North America. Now he could sense that he was close to his goal at long last. For whatever reason, the Banff National Park seemed to be where his … maker had finally found a place to settle.
He intended to unsettle him.
He took a piece of parchment from his backpack and tapped it with his wand, reciting "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." His smile had a touch of bitterness; he couldn't quite decide whether the password was an appropriate or an inappropriate choice.
A map of the Park slowly took shape, a good portion of it shaded in a pale yellow colour. Remus studied it carefully out of habit; but wherever Greyback was, it wasn't in those shaded parts. He'd known that, really; the map would already have alerted him if Greyback had shown up. Remus was not surprised. He had so far managed only to cover the more accessible areas of the Park's two and a half thousand square miles, and Greyback was an expert at finding, and surviving in, very inaccessible areas.
Remus pursed his lips. The trace spells he was using were crude, but that didn't matter; if Greyback ever tripped them, they would give him an accurate enough fix to take action. The problem he had faced ever since he arrived in the Park was where to look next. It was only a fortnight before the next full moon – and thus the next potential attack, the next child condemned to the kind of life that Remus himself had led. And Greyback could move fast when he wanted to.
As he stared at the map, something that the barmaid had said rang a faint bell – our packs?
Remus fished in his pockets for a small tourist guide picked up on a whim, and read: "The park is home to five different packs … Three of the five are rarely seen, but numerous sightings are made of the Cascade pack in the Lake Minnewanka area in winter, and of the Bow Valley pack year-round …"
He gazed out over Lake Louise, but without really taking in the impressive sight. Wolf packs. Of course. That's why he's here. Everything Remus knew about his quarry convinced him that Greyback would feel a perverse attraction to one of the few places in the world where real wolves could still be found in the wild – and one where there were also people, and in particular children, for him to prey upon.
Remus also knew too well that he was the only person even trying to stop him. His pursuit of Greyback had begun as a quest for revenge, impure and simple; then, as the years went by and his pain congealed, it had mutated into a desire to see justice done; now he often felt it was merely a self-imposed mission, carrying on under its own momentum, undertaken because he had long ago lost the capacity to imagine himself doing anything else after so many years on the trail.
Three of the five are rarely seen … Those then would be the ones Greyback would seek out. He was vicious and cruel and completely insane, but he had never been stupid. Remus' shoulders slumped in weariness. It meant another day to research sightings, another day away from the area, another day spent not looking for Greyback directly. But he had little choice but to follow all such leads.
He tucked the guide back in his pocket and Disapparated.
The day passed, and the week passed, and the month passed.
The moon rose.
Remus spent the night of its fullness in the remotest part of the Park, curled up in a cave, as far away from people as he could get. The Wolfsbane he took protected him – sheer necessity had finally taught him how to brew it for himself – but even after five years he was still haunted by the thought of what might happen if he ever got it wrong.
The coloured area of his map slowly expanded. From a third of the Park at the beginning of the lunar cycle, it grew day by day until at the end of the month it covered nearly one half.
Greyback did not once appear on it.
Remus did however manage to locate one of the three elusive wolf packs by a combination of clever spellwork, rapid Apparition, and sheer luck. He studied them carefully from under the twin shields of a Disillusionment Charm and a Smell-Suppression Spell, but neither their behaviour nor their surroundings gave any hint that they had been in contact with humans – not even a human who sometimes seemed more wolf than man when he was not transformed.
The days passed, and the weeks passed, and the month passed, and Remus again spent the night in his cave, cursing his failure to find Greyback.
The news he heard on his return to civilisation haunted him all through the next month.
"Another family attacked last night, eh?" the barmaid told the odd Englishman when next she saw him.
The man, already wan-looking as if he had been awake all night, glanced up from his drink and paled still further. "No! … What happened? I was in the Castleguard Caves all night, I haven't heard anything that's been going on!"
She shook her head. "Parents killed, half eaten by the sound of it. Their boy was nowhere to be found, eh? There's a report if you'd like to see it…"
At the stranger's fervent nod she reached under the counter for the local paper and spread it out on the bar. He read through the main article twice and then buried his head in his hands.
The barmaid nodded with approval at this horrified reaction. The Englishman obviously had the right attitude, however eccentric he might appear. "Seems to be full moon that sets them off, eh? They're talking about getting up a party ready to start hunting the wolves next month …"
"What!" The stranger looked up, now absolutely white. "Are they insane?"
She shrugged. "Only thing they can do, eh? Someone's got to put a stop to it."
"Yes. Yes, of course, you're right." He drained his glass and smiled at her, a smile that he seemed to have to summon all his courage to find. "If you'll excuse me. I have a lot of travelling to do."
It was half an hour later that it struck her. He'd been in Castleguard Caves last night? Whatever he'd been doing, the Englishman had already travelled far and fast.
The boy called Johnny was not the first such missing child that Remus had heard of in his ten year odyssey. But here, so close at hand, it left him more shaken than he would have believed possible. It could, after all, have been his own story, if his parents had been armed only with cooking knives instead of wands.
He spent the next month in continued monomaniacal search for Greyback; but although the coloured areas on the map grew steadily, they were his sole real success. He was only able to force himself to eat and sleep at the appropriate intervals by reminding himself that he would need to be fully alert and in fighting trim when he finally succeeded.
He located another of the elusive wolf packs. But again, try as he might he could not detect any suggestion of Greyback's presence in the vicinity.
The days passed, and the weeks passed. Remus could only imagine what the children that Greyback had taken would be thinking and feeling – trapped in the wilderness, dependent on a madman, and anticipating the next moonrise with the same dread he had felt at their age. More so, in fact, because Remus had at least been aware of magic before the bite. These children were all Muggles and would have no conception of what was happening to them.
He found the thought far more chilling than anything the Canadian climate had thrown at him.
At the end of the fourth week, he forced down his final dose of Wolfsbane, tucked the flask back into his belt, and checked his watch, making sure the alarms were set. He never had been able to tell exactly when the moon would rise and had no intention of forgetting again.
The thought that the full moon would rise in just a few short hours, and that he had still found no sign of Greyback's presence, made him want to yell and curse. The taste of failure was more bitter than the potion, and he found himself sweating with tension – or then again, maybe it was just the effects of wearing so much clothing as the weather became warmer.
He had taken several steps into the cave before he realised that the heat was coming from his map.
Quickly, Remus opened out the parchment and stared at it, fighting an urge to laugh hysterically. He was there, all right – a flashing dot labelled Fenrir Greyback, in one of the remoter areas of the Park that Remus had visited two weeks ago and never given special consideration. And of all the times Greyback could have chosen to wander into the range of his spells, it had to be now? It had to be NOW?
Remus had no choice. He had to go there, regardless.
He allowed himself one inchoate roar of frustration before he Disapparated.
Remus ducked for cover behind some nearby rocks as soon as he arrived and quickly rechecked the map, tapping it with his wand to narrow the focus. What he saw made him shudder. The spells weren't accurate enough to pinpoint Greyback, but he could be no more than half a mile from this spot.
As he raised his wand to cast concealment spells he paused, and then tensed. Although he had sometimes wished for his monthly sojourn in a wolf's body to provide some benefit in his normal human form – unusual sensitivity to danger, perhaps – it never had. But on the other hand, two decades' worth of experience at war and hunting had taught him that if something felt wrong, it almost certainly was.
He gripped the wand tightly and very, very slowly turned on the spot, scanning the area. There was hardly any cover, and no visible sign that anyone at all was in the vicinity.
It was the slightest of noises from above his head that gave him enough warning to save himself.
He twisted out of the way just in time as Greyback leapt at him from the top of the rock. The impact was only a glancing blow, but still enough to send him crashing to the ground. His wand flew from his hand and away into the snow.
The man he had hunted for so long without success had found him first.
Remus sprang to his feet as Greyback, moving surprisingly fast, hurled himself at him. Filed, sharpened teeth snapped together as he lunged at Remus' face, and although he just managed to turn his head in time, they fastened on his ear and tore a strip away from it. Wincing from the pain, he lashed out with an elbow in riposte and felt it make satisfying contact with the side of Greyback's head, knocking him to the ground.
The older werewolf, clearly realising that his natural weapons might not be enough, produced a knife from his ragged robes; but by now Remus had got his balance back. He dodged the first slashing blow easily, blocked the second with his pack, and as the jarring impact made Greyback stagger and struggle to keep hold of his weapon, Remus grabbed for his arm and twisted hard.
With a grunt Greyback dropped the knife; Remus kicked out at his stomach with fierce glee at the realisation that age and rough living and many more years of hard transformations had left Greyback at a disadvantage. A knee to the groin, followed by a quick combination of hard punches to the jaw, and Greyback lay sprawled on his back in the snow gasping with pain.
Before he could rise, Remus had located his wand and was standing over him.
He had never been sure what he would feel if he were ever to reach this point. He'd considered rage, hatred, joyous vengeance, cold justice; instead, he felt only revulsion as he looked down at the man who had ruined so many lives, including his own. It was an uneasy feeling.
Greyback stared back at him like a man trying to remember where he had left something many years before; then realisation dawned in his eyes and he began to laugh. It was a hoarse, hacking sound that made Remus' skin crawl.
"You," he rasped. "Of course. Well, hello, Lupin. Long time, no see." He climbed to his feet, wincing in pain, but he didn't stop laughing.
Remus did not dare look away from the mocking face in case he made another move to attack. He concentrated hard and cried "Accio weapon!" The fourth time he used the spell, it failed to produce further results.
Greyback had lost the smile now. Remus could see him measuring the gap between them, and coming to the bitter realisation that they were too far apart for him to reach the younger man before he could Stun him. "What are you here for then?" he snarled. "Has the Order's tame werewolf actually come looking for revenge?"
Remus' sickened reply was stilled by the sight of four small, scared faces peeping out from behind the rock. It took him a panicked moment or two to find his long-ago memories of being a teacher; memories that informed him he'd once known what to do for terrified children. He forced a reassuring smile onto his face.
"It's all right, kids, You can come out. No-one wants to hurt you."
He knew the words were a bald lie – once bitten by Greyback, they faced a lifetime of people wanting to hurt them and it would never be all right again. But he had to try to reassure them. If they ran away now, this close to the full moon, there was no telling what might happen to them.
It seemed enough. Slowly, hesitantly, they inched towards him. Greyback, watching, beamed on them with a kind of sick pride. "Like my little cubs, Lupin? You should have been their big brother, but oh no, you ran away from home. You're a naughty boy."
Remus supposed he should have felt something more than simple disgust and weariness at that after ten years on the hunt. Instead he felt curiously flat. "Taunt all you like, Greyback. You'll harm no more children."
"What, you're going to kill me? Remus Lupin, the big bad wolf?" He sneered. "We both know you haven't got the guts."
Greyback threw his arms wide in a mocking gesture. "I'm not dead yet, am I, Lupin? If you really wanted to do it, I already would be. Fine werewolf you make. What do you want, reasons or something?" With a detached part of his mind, Remus noted that Greyback actually sounded angry and frustrated. "Don't want revenge on me for biting you?"
"Not revenge," Remus said thickly. "Not any more." One part of him knew that Greyback was playing for time, waiting for the moon to rise or for Remus to lose his concentration long enough to give him a chance to attack; but it was hard to shrug off the jeers of the man who had ruined so much of his life.
"No?" Greyback's eyes were completely insane, a wild joy in them as he remembered past hunts. "Don't even want to pay me back for your mate?" He leered. "She'd have made a fine wolf bitch, she would. Or do you think she could have turned herself into a nice safe mouse at full moon? Pity we never found out – maybe I should just have bitten her and left it at that, not ripped her throat out …"
Remus could feel his wand arm shaking. He rarely allowed himself to think about Nymphadora Tonks any more; just as he rarely thought about James, or Sirius, or Lily; or Albus, or Neville, or George. The grief such recollections brought had been a distraction; at some point, he had seemed to lose access to his memories of happier times as well. But Greyback's taunts cut straight through these carefully-prepared defences.
Slowly, subconsciously, he began to steel himself for what he knew he had to do.
Greyback's voice became more strident as Remus failed to act. "Don't want to stop me biting any more kids? Too late, Lupin! We've got a nice little arrangement going here, me and the cubs and the pack. They'll be around soon, Lupin. Aren't you scared?" He leered. "Truth is, you don't have the nerve to cast a Killing Curse."
Remus froze. He remembered being fully prepared to cast a Killing Curse at a man who had once ripped apart his world. A boy, one whose world had been equally ripped apart, had stopped him becoming a killer that day; a boy who had not yet learnt the lesson that sometimes the fates left you with no choice. He had never known if he would really have been able to do it.
But now he would find out. He wanted to. He didn't want to. His reawakened pain longed for revenge. His constant weariness merely longed for rest.
It didn't matter. He had to.
Remus considered the situation. There was less than half an hour left before moonrise. A transformed werewolf would shrug off any magical restraints he knew how to apply …
"Worried what the authorities might say if you kill me?"Not any more. They never paid attention before …
"You're too weak, Lupin!"
No. Not any more. It can't go on any more.
Remus drew on a lifetime's worth of suppressed hate, raised his arm and pointed the wand at the gleeful figure in front of him. He heard the next two words as if they had been spoken by somebody else a long way away – on the other side of the mountains, on the other side of the ocean. On the other side of ten long years of desperate pursuit.
There was a flash of green light. Remus watched dispassionately as the curse hit an astounded Greyback full in the chest. Its force sent him flying backwards through the air and into the deep snow, where he lay still.
Remus wasn't sure how long he stood there, frozen in position, thinking of nothing. Ten years. Ten long years, and suddenly, it was all over.
Eventually, the sound of the alarm on his watch brought his attention back to the situation at hand. Slowly, tiredly, he walked over to the children, who stared at him with frightened yet hopeful faces.
"It's all right, he can't hurt you any more," he said gently, dropping to his haunches to bring himself down to their eye level. He attempted the smile again. It wasn't easy to achieve when he saw these children, two boys and two girls, the oldest of whom could be no more than ten. As Muggle werewolves – orphaned Muggle werewolves, no less – they now became part of the wizarding world whether they wanted to or not. And most people in that world would despise them for being werewolves; many would also treat them with contempt for being Muggles. He felt pleased now that he hadn't Disillusioned himself. These children were already traumatised enough; an invisible man would have made things far worse.
"Who are you?" whispered one of them, a boy of maybe six or seven.
"My name is Remus Lupin," he said, as kindly as he could. The boy was fair-haired and quiet-looking and made Remus' guts wrench as he thought of himself at the same age. He smiled more genuinely as he saw their reactions. "No, really, it is. Funny name, isn't it?" That at least got him a somewhat tremulous smile from the boy in return.
One of the girls spoke up. "Will we have to … to …" – he could see the terror in her eyes – "will it still happen to us when the moon rises now he's … he's … he's dead?"
Remus hung his head for a moment. "Yes. I'm sorry. I don't know how to stop it." And neither does anyone else, he added to himself. That was a lesson that could wait for the future, when he could get these children to what passed for werewolf support services in the Canadian Ministry, and hope against hope that they could find them a wizarding guardian. They would learn it soon enough.
"But you'll have to go!" The child stepped back in panic, tears starting to course down her cheeks. "We'll hurt you, we can't stop ourselves, he … he … he made us lie in wait for Johnny here …"
A shadow passed across Remus' face; the old confession never became any easier. "No, you won't hurt me. He bit me too, once, I … I change as well. Your, ah, instincts will be to follow me, the big wolf. I'll keep you safe."
"But won't you want to hunt people …"
Remus shook his head. "I take a … medicine that stops me. I still become a wolf, but I know who I am when I do … oh of course." He checked his watch and grimaced; barely ten minutes to go before the moon rose and these children became deadly. He took the flask of Wolfsbane from his belt, cursing himself for not thinking of it before. "Quickly, all of you. Drink some of this!" He smiled again at their uncertain faces. "It's the most horrible-tasting thing on earth, and I don't have enough left to stop the feelings completely, but it will help you fight it. Will you be brave and try it for me?"
The children exchanged looks. Remus fought the desire to drum his fingers on the flask in frustration as they thought it over.
"I'll do it," said the oldest boy boldly. He grabbed the flask and took a swig, gagging at the taste but choking the liquid down with a defiant look at the others. He then almost forced it into the hands of the next child. She looked worried, but clearly wasn't going to let herself be shown up, and Remus' shoulders sagged with relief as they all drank in turn. At least they would retain some knowledge of who they were as humans now. It gave him a much better chance of keeping them in line if any of the threatened hunting parties did turn up.
"Well done," he said proudly. "You're all really clever boys and girls and I promise I'll …"
He trailed off as the youngest girl's eyes widened in complete terror and she screamed, a horrible, keening sound that shattered the quiet of the wilderness. Confused for a moment, Remus thought that her transformation must be starting early; until he realised that she was actually looking at something over his shoulder.
He whirled round and then froze, his eyes widening just as the child's had done.
Fenrir Greyback was stirring. Groggily, he climbed to his feet and looked at Remus with malicious disbelief.
"Wh – what?"
Greyback began to laugh again, a laugh both bitter and triumphant. Then he threw his head back and howled like the wolf he was shortly to become. Remus could only watch and listen with uncomprehending shock. He seemed unable to lift his wand, or indeed to take any action at all.
He spared a glance for the children. Their faces were almost as white as the snow behind them.
"How?" he asked, forcing out the words. "How did you survive that?"
Greyback laughed again. He looked gleeful and he sounded victorious, something that left Remus truly scared for the first time. His voice was almost singsong. "You couldn't do it, could you, Lupin? You couldn't mean it. You didn't have the guts to kill me!"
Remus stared at him as the sickening realisation began to dawn. It was a lesson he himself had once taught, long ago; the Unforgivable Curses would not work properly without the caster's full mental commitment. Then, he had been glad that it was not merely legalities that prevented him from casting them on a human being. Now, he wished with all his heart that his hate had not dissipated over the years.
Greyback howled again, the noise echoing across the snow, then started to limp towards Remus. He was clearly in pain, but it didn't stop the triumph in his voice. "I've seen that before, Lupin. Your side, of course. Barely enough power to stun. You weakling!"
"I know you've seen it before," he spat in reply, his mind whirling. His failed curse had had power, but Greyback had merely been thrown ten feet onto soft snow when it hit. "It's not the only spell I know th …"
"You think anything else will do you any good, this close to moonrise?" crowed Greyback. "Nothing you could cast will stay effective once I transform. And then" – his face took on an expression of ecstasy at something out of Remus' line of sight – "I'll lead my pack and we'll tear you apart!" He howled again.
Remus couldn't stop himself from following the direction of Greyback's gaze. His heart sank. The third pack of grey wolves, the one he'd never been able to find, was approaching them. The lead wolf gazed at the humans with curiosity.
Greyback looked up at the rising moon and threw his arms wide as if welcoming the return of a lover. "Oh yes, Lupin. Wolves follow werewolves, didn't you know that? They recognise their betters, they always do what the alpha wolf wants. And don't think my cubs will defend you! Oh no, Lupin, you haven't given them nearly enough of that poison. When the moon rises, you're prey. There can't be more than a minute left now! And all because you're too pitiful to cast an Unforgivable Curse on a human being!"
As Remus stared into Greyback's eyes he suddenly began to laugh too. The man had shown him the way out of his peril. How appropriate.Not on a human being, Fenrir, no …
He aimed his wand at the lead wolf.
As its eyes glazed over, he pointed his wand towards Greyback. The older man's face fell in realisation, as the alpha wolf bared its teeth and charged towards him. It was followed by the rest of the pack.
"No!" he screeched, turning to run, but it was the last thing he ever said. Too old, too slow, too injured to escape, he went down underneath the leaping wolves; his hoarse screams followed by a horrible gurgling cry, and then silence. Another desperate flick of Remus' wand, and the alpha raced away from them into the night, followed in obvious confusion by the other wolves.
Remus stiffened as he felt the first pull of the moon. His cry as the transformation began was part agony, part triumph, and part release.
There were so many rumours about what the Englishman had done, no-one knew which of them to give credence to.
But all that anyone knew for sure was that the wolf attacks had stopped by the time he left. And in the Banff National Park, that was regarded as a highly desirable outcome.
"You're off home then, eh?" asked the barmaid, when the stranger dropped into her bar one last time before leaving.
"Home?" The word seemed to puzzle him, as if he had forgotten it was a term that could be associated with him. "Well yes, I suppose I am. At any rate, I want to see if I can find some people I used to know. They might be able to help me. We were good friends once, before I … well, rather lost touch."
"Ah, once a good friend, always a good friend, eh? If they were really your friends in the first place. That's what my mom always said."
The stranger smiled suddenly, a smile that changed his entire appearance, and yet seemed too old on his young-looking face. "You know, your mother sounds like a very wise woman." He finished his drink and stood up. "I have to go. People to see, responsibilities I mustn't neglect. Goodbye, and thank you for all your help."
"I did something to help?"
"You listened from time to time. That meant something to me."
She smiled. "It's part of the job, eh?" As he reached the door, she couldn't contain her curiosity any longer. "Do you have a wife then? Children?"
He paused for so long she was almost sure he wasn't going to answer. She was just about to apologise when he said quietly, "No. No wife, no children. But I do have several … much younger brothers and sisters who seem to have become my charge now."
"Oh. That's nice, eh?"
"Yes. Yes, in a way, I suppose it is. Circumstances being what they are." He smiled again. "Thank you."
She watched his face as he walked out the door of her bar for the last time. He seemed surprised, as if he were once again seeing things long forgotten, across a distance of years.
She closed the door softly behind him.