Disclaimer: Just tinkering with J.K. Rowling's characters. I promise I'll put them back as soon as I'm done.
A/N: We'll see where this goes; I'm not entirely sure yet. I got an impulse to write and this is the result...
Chapter One: A Summons
Remus Lupin walked down the street toward his London apartment, enjoying the light curtain of snow that was falling, softening the sharpness of the suburban slums and changing the light to a delicate silver-white. As he reached the door, Ella, the young woman who lived directly below him, swept out. He caught the door and held it for her with a nod, transferring his grocery bag from his right hand to his left. Ella gave a small smile of gratitude. Once she had stepped out of the way, Remus walked inside, closing the slightly crooked door as firmly as possible; however, a draft still managed to curl in between the mismatched door and its frame. He made for the stairway.
Down the hall to the left, he saw Mrs. Browning, the owner of the apartment, rapping furiously on room 102's door. "Mr. Chouchounova!" she shrieked. "I know you can hear me! Open the door this instant!" Remus quickened his pace, slumping down and shifting his grocery bag so that it shielded the left side of his head from view. The pounding stopped and he heard the owner turn, apparently exasperated. There was a pause, a surge of recognition, and—
Remus grimaced and halted, slowly lowering his bag to see Mrs. Browning scurrying toward him. He hitched a smile onto his face. "Mrs. Browning, how are—?"
"Remus, I hate to be a bother," the woman cut across him, reaching his side. "But I do have to ask when you'll be paying your rent? It was due two days ago, you know."
Remus sighed, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. "Two days ago?" he echoed. "Mrs. Browning, I'm sorry, I completely forgot…"
The landlady brushed her mousy brown hair from her eyes and adjusted her glasses, which had been thrown askew in her attempts to force Vladimir Chouchounova to open his door. "Well, time flies, of course. You must pay me soon though, Remus, or I'll have to throw you out. This isn't the first time your rent has been late."
"Yes, I realize, and I'm very sorry." He sighed again, glancing toward room 102, which had been opened a crack, allowing its occupant to peek out at them. When his eyes met the other man's the door was hastily shut. "Have any luck with Mr. Chouchounova?"
Mrs. Browning shrugged helplessly. "He still won't open his door, and he owes me four months' worth of rent. Of course, he only speaks Russian, so I suppose I can't blame him until I find someone who can translate." She looked back at Remus. "Anyway, make sure you get your money to me by midnight tonight. I like you, Remus dear, really, you're a much better tenant than all those parents with their screaming, bratty children—Oh, hello, Mrs. Carter," she greeted the woman who lived in the room next to Remus. Mrs. Carter glared at her, obviously having heard the owner's comment, and disappeared out the door with her crying son.
"I will, don't worry," Remus assured the landlady with more conviction than he felt. "But I really need to go upstairs and put this away." He gestured toward his grocery bag.
"Of course, of course," Mrs. Browning replied. "Go right ahead." She turned and spotted Vladimir Chouchounova's door, which hadn't been slammed shut quite quickly enough. She ran toward the room, shrieking once more.
Remus shook his head and ascended the four flights of stairs to his room, 507, wondering where he would come up with the money to pay his rent. He was in his almost perpetual state: between jobs. He entered his sparsely furnished apartment and flicked on the harsh ceiling light that was in the center of his living room, which doubled as his bedroom, blinking a few times before his eyes became adjusted. When he could see again—it took a few minutes because his eyes were better suited for darkness—he walked into the small connecting kitchen and placed his groceries on the tiny, two person table that was shoved into the corner.
He took out the items in the bag—a loaf of sourdough bread, a package of chicken, a half-gallon of milk, three pitiful-looking carrots, and a box of crackers—and put them away halfheartedly. Done, he paced the kitchen, which only took about four strides, then wandered into his living/bedroom. He flipped on his small, battered radio, restless. Classical music emerged through a slight haze of static: Bach. Remus smiled as he imagined Sirius' look of disgust at the radio station, remembered that his friend was dead, and stopped grinning immediately.
He walked to his window, looking outside but not truly seeing the stream of people bustling past below. Movement in the sky caught his attention, a flicker of white on white. Squinting, he saw that it was an owl. Remus sighed, assuming that the bird was Hedwig, hoping that she would leave quickly when she realized that he was not going to open his window to her. He loved Harry as Sirius had, feeling as though the green-eyed boy was practically his son. However, after Sirius' disaster, Remus had realized that he did not want to become close to Harry because, after all, he was part of the Order of the Phoenix also and in just as much jeopardy. He was not certain that Harry could handle losing yet another father figure, and thus held the boy at arm's length.
Remus watched the owl fly closer, and was just about to turn away when he realized that the bird was not Hedwig at all. Frowning, he forced his window open as it swooped down. It flew in gracefully, glided in a circle near the low ceiling, and settled on his threadbare sofa. Remus let the window go, which closed itself with an undignified clunk, and faced the bird. It hooted softly, golden eyes unnerving as they bored into him.
"Where are you from?" he asked it softly, unlashing the letter that was tied to its leg. The envelope, with its Hogwarts crest, answered him. He put the letter down and hauled the window open again. The owl flew out quickly, and he got the feeling that he had made it nervous.
Of course. Who don't I make uncomfortable, being what I am?
He reflected upon this, smiling humorlessly. Then he picked the Hogwarts envelope up, broke the seal, and tugged the thick parchment out.
To Mr. Remus Lupin:
You are being contacted by Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry concerning an opening in our staff. We at Hogwarts are hopeful that you will be available to take the job. Please come soon to discuss it.
Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
An opening in the Hogwarts staff? Remus knew that it was not for him; the letter was a cover, actually about the Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore had an assignment for him. As for the last line, asking him to come soon for a conversation about the offered job, he realized that it meant that he should come upon receiving the letter. Remus folded the parchment back up and shoved it into the envelope before putting it into his jacket pocket.
It was a bad time for Dumbledore to request his time. As soon as that thought crossed his mind, though, he laughed bitterly. Who was he kidding? He was unemployed with barely enough money to pay his rent and no family. How could he turn the job down? How could he ask someone else, like Molly Weasley, who had seven children and a husband to take care of, or Nymphadora Tonks, who was still so young, to risk their lives in place of him?
Remus went to his closet and threw a few changes of clothes into a suitcase, not knowing if he would need them or not, baring his teeth in annoyance when he saw how threadbare a few of them were. They would have to be re-patched soon. He rifled around in the back of the closet, where he kept about half of his money. He grabbed all of it as soon as he found it and counted it carefully. It was barely more than what Mrs. Browning charged for a month's rent. With a sigh, he pocketed it and walked out the door, turning off the lights and locking the room. He interrupted Mrs. Browning in front of Vladimir Chouchounova's room, where she was still trying to coax the Russian man to at least pay the rent, and handed her the money.
"I'm going away for a bit," he lied when she gazed questioningly at his worn suitcase. "I got a call; my friend has fallen ill."
"I'm sorry about that," Mrs. Browning replied. "Have a safe journey, I hope your friend gets well soon."
Remus thanked her and strode from the building.