By the time the girls were turning out their lights Jinger had almost caught up. She had only missed two lessons and asked Tabs lots of questions about them during supper. Tabs had looked worried when Jinger told her that her grandmother had just died.
Jinger suspected Tabs was more concerned about what she ought to say than about her feelings but she had got used to that after her mum passed away. To save Tabs any embarrassment, and because it was true, Jinger explained that her granny had been so upset after her grandad had gone missing that she had not been the same for a long time.
The girls went to bed late again and Jinger wondered if she would ever get used to it. But however tired she felt, she needed to stay awake tonight. She lay in the darkness under the eaves and gazed at the soft strip of light between the curtains.
It seemed like the whole world had shifted again since this morning. Her dad and Helen had expected her to want to go straight home with them and not come back to school until after the funeral but Jinger felt she needed to be here. There were so many things she wanted to learn, and anyway it was only her first week. She thought about poor Granny Bloom dying alone in her house and wondered if she ought to be crying.
The dorm room door squeaked open and a dim light flashed across the carpet. This was the other reason Jinger wanted to stay. She waited for a moment then got up. She slipped into her dressing gown and slippers and crept past the other beds.
In the corridor the only light was outside the bathroom. Jinger turned the other way and headed silently down the stairs. She guessed this was against the rules and paused for a moment to see if she could think of a reason to be there in case she was caught. Maybe lost? But it was a pretty small building and why would she be walking around it to get lost after all the pupils had finally gone to bed anyway? Jinger decided the best tactic would be to not be seen.
She reached the foyer and noticed light coming from underneath the door of Dr Skinner’s office. She edged past it noiselessly, towards the cubby holes where she had collected her post the previous morning. She headed through the large door at the school’s entrance and into the night.
Jinger could see Tabs. A single grey wolf sat on the bottom step, yawning and stretching its front legs.
“Tabs!” Jinger hissed, “That’s you, isn’t it?”
The wolf jumped up, startled. It looked to Jinger like it might bolt into the dark.
“It’s okay. Come here,” Jinger whispered and began to move down the steps towards the springy form at the bottom.
The wolf growled a warning. Jinger could see its long yellow-white teeth as it drew back its lips and snarled.
“Jinger!” Tabs’ voice startled her and she jumped more than she had when the wolf bared its teeth. The sound was coming from behind her.
“Get back up here! What are you doing?” Tabs half-whispered and half-shouted.
Jinger hurried back up the stone steps, baffled and looking over her shoulder. The wolf loped off and as it turned, Jinger saw that it had a thick line of fur missing over a scar on its muzzle.
The girls stood looking at each other in the muted light of the foyer.
“What were you doing out there? I thought you were in bed! You’ll get in trouble!” Tabs said, not looking worried. She looked like she was trying to stop herself laughing.
“I thought it was you.”
“Oh. Right. That makes sense. Like I’d be an ugly grey thing like that.” Tabs was no longer trying to stop herself laughing, she was just concentrating on laughing quietly. “When I’m a wolf, I look like this.”
Tabs changed. Right in front of Jinger, in the school foyer, she changed. She blurred slightly then leant forwards until her hands almost reached the floor. By the time she was touching the pale stone, her hands were paws on the end of narrow furry front legs. There was no moonlight in the room, no long painful transition and now there was no Tabs.
And Jinger had to agree that she looked nothing like the wolf outside. She was much smaller with longish brown fur, large eyes and paws which looked too big for her. Jinger was not sure if she could reach out and touch the fur. She paused for a moment, taking in the sight of her new friend and wondering if it would be impolite to try to pat her head.
The wolf lifted itself onto its back legs, blurred and Tabs stood in front of Jinger again.
“See? I look cute when I’m a wolf,” said Tabs as though that was the point. “I thought it was time you saw it happen. You can’t really be at this school and not know about the wolf thing properly. When were they going to tell you? You’re not horribly shocked are you?”
“No, I’m not shocked,” said Jinger, horribly shocked.
She had expected to see Tabs in her wolf form tonight; to follow her out of the dorm room and then catch sight of her running across the field with the others. She had not expected to see her change right in front of her and then change back a moment later.
Tabs went over to the stairs leading up to the dorm rooms and sat down on the third one from the bottom, resting her feet on the last. “You can’t tell anyone about me though,” she said in a normal voice as Jinger sat next to her.
“Shouldn’t we go somewhere else?” Jinger whispered, pointing at the light around Dr Skinner’s office door.
“I wouldn’t worry about him. He won’t be back for ages. We just saw him outside,” Tabs replied, sniggering again.
Jinger had the feeling Tabs was enjoying knowing all this far too much. Of course the Head of Lower School is a big bad wolf. Why not?
“So how come no one knows about you then? Shouldn’t you have gone with Sasha to Upper School?” Jinger hoped this line of questioning might stop Tabs from looking so smug.
“Well... I suppose so. Don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to go yet. I’m not ready.”
Jinger decided not to make her friend miserable. She never had any intention of telling anyone really. “I won’t tell. What were you doing down here though? I thought you were going out to meet up with the wolves or something. Do you just want to watch? I’ve got a pretty good view of the field from the window above my bed.”
“I can go out and run with them. It’s like one of those parties where people cover their faces... what are they called?”
“Masquerade?” Jinger suggested.
“No... erm... fancy dress, that’s it. We recognise each other as wolves but we don’t always know which wolf is which person. Sometimes people from Murkle come and run with us too. It’s safer if we are all together. Some wolves from the school have gone missing from the woods in the past. I was waiting for Dr Skinner to leave. If he saw a wolf coming out of Lower School it’d be much harder to keep my secret. And like I said, I’m not ready for that,” Tabs explained.
“But I thought being ready just meant being able to change. Isn’t there some sort of rule? And what about your clothes? How come they just disappear and then come back?” Jinger noticed for the first time that Tabs was back in the big fleecy baby suit.
“Part of the magic of Murkle,” she said mysteriously, although she delivered it quite matter-of-factly. “I’ve had an awful summer holiday trying to hide all this from Mum. I know she’ll be proud. She went to this school too and loved the wolf part but I don’t feel ready. I want to be a Third Year with the rest of the class and have Ms Flapp for a form tutor. Next year, I don’t mind because we’ll all go up together, wolves or not. You might change before then too, of course.”
Jinger was more shocked by this than anything else she had seen or heard in the last couple of days. Tabs really thought that Jinger might be able to turn into a wolf someday! That was ridiculous. Jinger was not even from Murkle! Whatever it was that made people change (and Jinger was already thinking of possibilities, starting with that weird Moon), she knew it had to be something to do with Murkle.
“You must think this is all strange. Some people from other places…” Tabs gestured towards the front of the school where the mountain sloped towards Brink Stenton and everywhere else, “… don’t even believe in magic.”
“Really?” Jinger tried to fake sounding surprised, remembering that she wanted to fit in with the Murkle pupils more than anything.
“Maybe they just don’t want to. We get loads of tourists up here and they buy the things with Moons printed all over them but I don’t think they have a clue what’s really going on up here. It’s real life for people like us and it can be pretty dangerous.”
Tabs seemed to be getting upset. Jinger was not sure if it was because she did not like tourists or if it was to do with the danger, whatever that was.
It was now getting very late even by Murkle standards. The girls made their way softly up the stairs. Jinger decided she had better risk upsetting Tabs more and just ask. She tugged on her new friend’s starry blue sleeve and whispered, “What’s so dangerous? Aren’t wolves just about the scariest things out there?”
Tabs stopped on the landing between two flights of stairs and turned to face Jinger. There was a large window behind her, casting her in silhouette. Jinger could make out from her place on the stair below that Tabs had a serious and worried expression.
“Come on, Tabs. You’ve told me everything else. If I’m going to stay here and maybe... erm... ” Jinger could not believe she was saying this, “… change like you then I need to know. What is more dangerous on Murkle Mountain than a wolf?”
“A Woodcutter,” she replied, suddenly looking so angry Jinger barely recognised her.