Recap: Remus tried to make Sirius see that he took on too much blame. Sirius took his first faltering steps towards forgiving himself and finally managed to tell Remus he loved him. While traveling to alert the old crowd, Sirius was drawn to his childhood home.

Chapter 8 - Epilogue (Several Weeks Later)

Altair Black was rather put out. He had finally completed the arduous process of completing and filing the required mid-year financial records for the foundations he headed. Between dealing with Gringotts' goblins, who specialized in general unpleasantness, and snotty, supercilious Ministry officials, who never missed a chance to disparage his son, it was all he could do to refrain from hexing someone. On the whole, he found he preferred dealing with the goblins. It was not a comforting thought. But, he intended to reward himself with a week in Paris.

That is, until he received an oddly insistent request from Albus Dumbledore to go to Hogwarts for a few days. Dumbledore wanted his expertise in trying to improve the performance of the endowments that funded much of the school's operations. And he insisted that Altair arrive in precisely two days time, thus wreaking havoc with his Paris plans. Hence his annoyance.

But, somehow, Altair couldn't turn down the request, short of refusing outright to help. And that seemed a poor way to show his gratitude to Dumbledore for the Headmaster's assistance in smuggling a letter to him. A letter he read with the reverence of a priest reading the Bible. A letter he transfigured into a gold ring that looked exactly like his wedding band. A letter from Sirius.

Altair's wedding ring now lay in his Gringott's vault. The fake wedding ring rested on his finger, safe from the occasional snooping wizards from the Magical Law Enforcement Squad. And, even though he had memorized every word, even though the handwriting burned like a brand in his mind's eye, he returned the letter to its original form several times a day. His aquamarine eyes would sweep across the oddly hesitant script and he would envision the face of his son. He knew the picture in his mind was undoubtedly incorrect because the face he pictured was either the frightening death-mask of the escaped convict, or the smooth, handsome features of a man barely into his twenties. Surely reality differed.

Banishing thoughts of cafes and the Louvre from his mind, Altair set quill to parchment and scribbled a short note informing Dumbledore that he would arrive in two days. Paris could wait. Although, if some Ministry flunky showed up to interfere or the school's Board of Governors sent a representative like Lucius Bloody Malfoy, Altair would pack up and leave.

The afternoon sun burned brightly two days later as Altair Black passed through Hogwarts' imposing front doors. Several house elves waited, one to whisk his luggage off to wherever they were putting him, the other to escort him to Dumbledore's office. As he entered the office, the old wizard, a vision in iridescent blues and purples, swept forward.

"Altair! Welcome!" Albus warmly shook hands with his black-haired visitor. His lively blue eyes fairly danced with enthusiasm behind the half-moon glasses. "I salute the generous donation of your time and expertise in coming to assist me, especially after you've just completed what I'm sure was a tedious and stressful mid-year accounting. I'm most pleased."

Dumbledore's effusive greeting immediately made Altair feel petty and immature for his original reaction to the Headmaster's request for help. It was a feeling his son had experienced more than once in this same office. Altair smiled back at the old wizard. "Albus, it's quite alright. I'll assist you in any way I can, although perhaps what you need is a good accountant."

"Oh, I don't think the figures are confusing. They make perfect sense. The problem with them appears to be that they don't increase over time as well as they should. I'm sure you will offer some ingenious and clever suggestions to ameliorate this problem. But, that can wait until tomorrow or the next day. Or some other time in the future."

The puzzled expression on his visitor's face only made Dumbledore's smile spread. He waved his hand towards an empty table. "I'd offer you refreshments, Altair, but I think that once you see who else is visiting the school, you won't wish to dally here."

This didn't sound good. In fact, it sounded like Albus was about to invite someone else in whom Altair would not like to see. 'Please, not Malfoy. Or some interfering git from the Ministry.'

"Come with me," Dumbledore said, his voice oddly gentle. Taking Altair lightly by the arm, Dumbledore headed out a side door and down a flight of stairs. "You are invited to join me in my rooms for dinner, but I suspect that you will prefer to dine privately tonight, " he said as they approached a thick oaken door. "I've had the elves make up a room for you in this suite. Just ring the bell and let Balty know if he should bring dinner to you. I know you and Sirius have a lot of catching up to do and I completely understand that you may wish to spend as much time together as you can."

Altair stopped short, feeling as if he had just walked face first into the door. "Sirius? My Sirius? He's here?" For a moment Altair thought perhaps he hadn't heard correctly.

"He's waiting for you, my friend." Albus opened the door and stepped aside.

As if in a trance, Altair entered the room, hardly noticing its comfortable furnishings. His eyes sprang to the tall, thin figure at the far end of the room, a black-haired man who spun about at the sound of the door.

Everything stopped. If Albus Dumbledore said anything more, it didn't register. Altair didn't hear the door close behind him. His entire universe shrank down to pinpoint on the other person in the room.

For the rest of his life, Altair Black could never recall walking across the room. One moment he stood in a state of shock just inside the door, and the next his hands hesitantly reached up to frame the face of his son. His son, thinner and older, not quite fitting the picture locked for so many years in Altair's heart. But, with the same blue ice eyes and midnight hair. And his skin was warm and his hands gripped Altair's shoulders tightly and his voice, although a little hoarse from disuse, rang with a timbre long remembered when he said simply, "Dad."

And then they were locked together in a hard, desperate embrace full of longing and sorrow, joy and incredulity. Altair no longer saw the room as his eyes were either shut tight, or blurred with tears. Capable of only the most rudimentary speech, he babbled incoherently in his effort to express the soaring emotions in his heart, until finally, he settled for simply repeating his son's name, over and over. His sweet son, his Sirius. Altair's whole world centered on the lean body of his son in his arms, while their tears mingled freely.

He had no idea how long they stood there before he started to regain his composure. There were so many things he wanted to say. So many questions to ask. But, not yet, as, shoulders heaving, Sirius cried brokenly against him. Altair held him tight, whispering, comforting. Anger pierced his heart, and he tried not to let it seep into his words. Fierce anger, hot and strong as a Killing Curse, at his son's pain. Anger at the society that had torn them apart and crushed them with its capricious justice. And anger that he had failed in his most basic duty as a father - to protect his child.

Altair resolutely smothered his fury because, right now, the only thing that mattered was that Sirius was here with him, safe, in the same room. And after a separation that seemed like a lifetime, he'd be blessed to hear Sirius' voice and see him smile. So, Altair murmured of his love, and of how much he had missed his boy, holding him close.

Eventually, Sirius got himself under control. Inhaling a deep, shuddering breath he straightened and wiped the remaining traces of tears from his face. "Hi," he said with a watery smile. And, though his face was older and shadowed by prison horrors, Altair still saw traces of the intriguing young man, bright as silver and onyx, that his son had been. His throat suddenly constricted. Although Sirius was wounded with hidden scars he'd carry to his grave, his soul remained intact. They hadn't broken him. Altair grabbed him and hugged him fiercely once more.

"I'm so sorry, Sirius. I would have paid any price to free you. I knew you were innocent. I always knew! But I couldn't make them believe me."

"Dad, you don't know.it means so much. that you never lost faith in me."

As one, they stepped apart to better look into each other's faces. Where to start? There was so much to say. Sirius seized on the information that his lover had given him. "Remus told me about how you tried to help me. He said you and Mum came to Azkaban."

Altair nodded, his features tight with pain. "It was so terrible. So cold and threatening and.mad. The thought of you trapped inside that tomb was like ice in our hearts. I went there three times. Natalie came with me twice. We just wanted to see you. To tell you we knew.We pleaded with the warden to give us five minutes with you, that if we were never to see you again, at least to let us say 'good-bye.' But, he refused."

The silence in the room was absolute as both men were mentally transported back to the dread, gray walls of Azkaban. Drawing in a deep breath, Altair continued. "Your Mum couldn't bear it after the second visit. The air was filled the shrieks and screams of inmates whose minds had shattered. She thought she heard you, the thread of your voice in that twisted aural tapestry. She couldn't endure the torture of being so near to you and believing she heard your agony, and then being forbidden to see you."

He stopped briefly, forcing his emotions in check. "I came one last time and begged for just a few moments with you. That cold bastard warden spat at me, and told me that if I came back again, he'd tell you I had died. I didn't.if you were still sane.I wanted to spare you that torture. So I stayed away." Altair ran a hand distractedly through his hair.

Shadows of Sirius' nightmares circled slowly through his mind. "Dad-"

"Don't say anything!" Altair suddenly shied away, one hand raised as if to ward off a blow. Sirius waited and realized that there were some things he simply would not be able to tell his father. Not yet. After a few moments, Altair turned back, his love for his son shining in his eyes. His next question was totally out of the blue.

"Do you know the one instant in my life when I fell in love at first sight?" Altair asked, a forlorn smile on his face.

Sirius had no clue where his father thoughts were taking them. "When you met Mum?"

Altair shook his head. His smile grew brighter, despite his sadness. "When I met you. Even though I was expecting you, that very first time I held you in my arms, I fell hopelessly, endlessly in love. Oh, Sirius, I'm sure you have some idea of what I mean. I remember the look you'd get on your face when you held your infant godson. There I sat, holding this beautiful, innocent being. My baby, entrusted to me. What a grave responsibility and an overwhelming joy, to watch him grow and learn and live life with passion. But, even though my baby grew into a man, there was always that part of my heart and soul that existed to protect and care for him. I felt that part shatter because I couldn't.I couldn't do what a father is meant to do for his child. And I'll always be sorry for that."

Sirius was shaking his head. "No. No. Stop, please. It was out of your hands, Dad. No one could have helped me. I made a mistake, and dug my own grave. It was no one's fault but mine."

Now it was Altair's turn to shake his head. He pulled Sirius back into his embrace. They stood silently in each other's arms for a long time. Sirius felt himself spinning in a maelstrom of emotions. Sorrow, relief, elation. He wanted to spill out every thought and feeling that had been trapped inside all these years.

And he had to figure out a way to absolve his father's guilt. Against the monolithic might of the Ministry and the seemingly iron-clad evidence against him, there was nothing Altair could have done. His father needed to forgive himself. The irony was not lost on Sirius.

Once the two men recovered their equilibrium somewhat, they slipped comfortably into the time-honored ritual of sitting down over a cup of tea. Then, they attempted to catch up, as had been their habit when Sirius had come home from school. It was rather surreal, since their topics were not casual discussions of classes or current events, but rather, instances of trauma and upheaval. They talked about Natalie Black, her illness and death. Altair shared his experiences of living with Ministry of Magic surveillance of his travels, his mail and his home. Sirius told of how Pettigrew had set him up to look like a murderer. And, after some thought, he revealed how he had escaped from prison, much to his father's astonishment. Sirius made no mention of Remus' lycanthropy. Instead, he let his father think that the quest to become Animagi had arisen simply out of the challenge to pull it off.

"So, now you know. When you hear people talk about how the infamous Sirius Black used some sort of ancient Dark Magic to escape from prison, you'll know I did in the guise of an undernourished dog."

"Speaking of undernourished." Altair's shape gaze ran up and down Sirius' still-slender frame. "You need to eat more."

Sirius smiled, recognizing a parental edict when he heard one. "I've been traveling a lot recently, so I've probably used up too many calories. Generally, I've been eating well. Remus takes good care of me." He looked at his father expectantly.

Altair's gaze reflected a puzzled concern. "You're staying with Remus? Is that a matter of convenience, or are you.together?"

Sirius met his father's look. "We're together." Sirius hesitated, but then, with more than a shade of his impulsiveness of old, he jumped right in. "He told me about how angry you were with each other-"

Altair leaped to his feet. "He hated you! He wanted you to suffer! He reveled in thoughts of your torture!"

Sirius refused to answer his father's sharp words in kind. "He was hurt, too, Dad."

"He abandoned you! He believed in his heart that you were guilty of the most monstrous crimes!"

"No, that's not true. His mind logically interpreted the evidence to show what a cruel traitor I was. But, in his heart, he still loved me. Even though I destroyed everyone he loved. Deep down, he still loved me. And he hated himself for it."

Altair's anger faded in the face of his son's dogged persistence. He slumped onto his chair, elbows on his knees, head propped in his hands. "I hated to see him turn all that venom against you. When I knew you were in hell.Mine was the only candle lit against the darkness that swallowed you."

Sirius remained silent. Altair eventually looked at him and was struck by how the shadows in Sirius' eyes spoke of a deep and tortured knowledge. His solemn expression gave him a maturity deeper than his father had ever seen in him before. Altair felt old. Finally, Sirius said, "Now that Remus and I have found each other again, would you have us separate because of old mistakes?"

Altair's look was grave. "Do you still love each other?"

"Quite desperately."

"I want you to be happy, Sirius. It's all I ever wanted for you. But."

"But, what?"

Altair looked both rueful and annoyed. "I can't promise I won't yell at him the first time I see him."

A smile slowly spread across Sirius' face. "Well, he might yell right back. I don't care. I love both of you. You'll simply have to work it out between you and that's all there is to it."

Altair raised his hands in surrender, and answering smile lighting his azure eyes. "Alright, alright. You win. We'll make up."

"Thank you. He'll be here in a day or two." Sirius announced calmly. "Are you ready for dinner? I'm famished."

And, so the evening continued. Their talk ranged from an examination of Altair's passion for gardening to Sirius' description of the differences between human and canine senses. They needed a respite from more emotional topics. But simply spending these hours together restored a profound connection that had been sorely missing from both their lives. It was a balm to their souls.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A routine developed over the next few days. As promised, Altair spent several hours each day examining the Hogwarts' endowments. While he was occupied with that, Sirius assisted Dumbledore with interpreting the various reports that were being sent in by their allies, trying to develop a big picture of how events were shaping up. But, much of their time was shared together, including long walks around the school's grounds and into Hogsmeade. At times, due to their proximity to others, Padfoot would appear, which Altair found endlessly intriguing.

Remus' arrival raised the emotional stakes for all three men. Altair and Sirius had just returned to their rooms after a visit to Hogsmeade. As Balty, the efficient house elf, set out their afternoon tea, the door opened and Remus appeared. Sirius sprang across the room to greet him. Altair had a quick impression of silver-streaked tawny hair and bright, happy hazel eyes before the two disappeared into their shared bedroom.

They reappeared moments later. Altair stood by the windows and noticed Remus' slight hesitation before the younger man strode across the room. Sirius hovered anxiously near-by. Remus stopped in front Altair, standing straight and tall. "Altair, I know it's inexcusably late, but I wish to extend my deepest apologies to you. I've wronged you, not only by the horrible things I said to you about Sirius, but also because I didn't give you the support you deserved after Natalie died. I was afraid that you wouldn't have wanted anything to do with me, but I should have at least made the effort. I am deeply, profoundly sorry and I hope that you-"

"Remus, stop." Altair interrupted him quietly. "I was so desperate to try and help Sirius all those years ago, that I couldn't even conceive that anyone close to him would see things differently. I never stopped to consider how his supposed betrayal must have hurt you, too." He paused, gazing into the wide, hazel eyes of his son's lover, and seeing some of the same shades that haunted Sirius. "I'm sorry, too, Remus. It was a terrible time and we all suffered." He looked quickly back and forth between the younger men. "But, we managed to survive, and have been given the opportunity to put it all behind us."

He threw his arms around Remus and embraced him. Remus hugged back, murmuring, "Thank you." He wasn't quite sure if he was thanking Altair, or Sirius, or the fates that had granted them all this second chance.

With a palpable sense of relief, the three men sat down for tea. Altair's eyes suddenly lit up with ill-concealed mischief. "You know, Sirius, the wards the Ministry placed around my house alert them to my human visitors. If an animal, such as a large dog, passed through the wards, they wouldn't know it. And once the dog was inside the wards, it would be safe for him to take on a different physical form."

"You're encouraging me to play tricks on the Ministry?" Sirius asked with insincere outrage.

Altair shrugged innocently. Remus raised an eyebrow at Altair and then glared at Sirius, "So this compulsion to dream up plans to try to outwit authority has its basis in genetic predisposition? What other recessive genes are you hiding?"

Sirius smiled affectionately. "I'm afraid it will take you a lifetime to find them all."

Remus grinned back. "I'm looking forward to it."

Altair felt a sudden rush of emotion he tried to hide. He wondered how long it would take until the three of them would be able to spend time together without at least one of them fighting to stop from crying. The feeling of family, of support and love that was so evident in the room had been absent from his life for so long. He wasn't going to let it go. He'd fight like hell to keep it and to keep his boys safe. There was only one sure way to do that.

"We've got to catch that rat!" Altair hadn't meant to say that aloud and saw that he'd surprised the other two.

"Yes, we do," Remus agreed. "Not only for justice, but because Sirius' effectiveness in the fight against Voldemort is hampered because of it."

An idea occurred to Altair, but he knew instinctively his son would object. He'd have to enlist Remus' help. An opportunity suddenly presented itself, in the form of a knock on the door. Albus Dumbledore poked his head in to borrow Sirius briefly to translate a note from Mundungus Fletcher that contained more than his usual amount of gibberish.

Once Sirius left the room, Altair immediately outlined his plan to Remus. It involved giving his wand to Sirius. "He won't want to take it because he'll think that it might look suspicious for me to waltz into Ollivander's store for a new wand. I know Sirius will do anything in his power to avoid directing 'official' scrutiny towards me. But, our wands have the same core. This one would work well for him, although he probably shouldn't try long distance Apparating."

Remus heard him out. "As it happens, I agree with you. I hate the thought of him out there without the protection that a wand can give him. What do you want me to do?"

"Before we leave Hogwarts, I'll slip my wand to you. Once you get home, give it to him."

"Present him with a fait accompli, eh? So, you get to do something noble and I get to deal with an annoyed Animagus."

Altair laughed. "Remus, I'm sure you'll think of something to put him back into a good mood."

Several ideas had already occurred to Remus on that score, but he didn't think it appropriate to share the sultry details with the father of his mate. He smiled back. "Agreed. We are now official co-conspirators."

At that moment, Sirius returned. "What are the two of you grinning about?"

"We're discussing how much you mean to us," Altair responded. Although that wasn't precisely true, Altair felt that core of truth in his statement should serve to cover a multitude of sins.

Sirius leaned over to kiss his father's forehead and then sat next to Remus, sliding an arm around his shoulders. "Well, that's good, since you're both rather important to me, too."

Blue eyes met hazel in a silent pledge. They would do their utmost to protect and fight for the black-haired wizard, son and lover, that that each loved more than any other living soul. He would never be taken from them again.

END