A/N: This was written for Season 5 Round 4 of the Quidditch League Fanfiction Competition. I'm Chaser 1 for the Caerphilly Catapults. My prompt this round was to write about the Greengrass family. These were my optional prompts:
7. (quote) "The world tolerates conceit from those who are successful, but not from anybody else." – John Blake
13. (scenario) A character is granted 3 wishes
15. (phobia) Heliophobia – fear of sunlight
Gil Greengrass had not been home in as long as he could remember. He had never felt the need to. The Potters and Weasleys had taken him in, practically raising him after Albus Potter had found him one night, thinking about jumping off the Astronomy Tower at Hogwarts. They had been a better family to him than his mother and father ever were. He associated his time with his adopted family with warmth and light, and now, as he approached his ancestral home, he remembered why those qualities had seemed so strange to him when he'd first met Albus's family. This house was old and dark. It was made of stone, so it never really warmed up all the way, but as he approached it he felt as though it were colder than usual.
When he'd heard that his father had died and received his mother's owl asking him to come, he had dreams of the finding that the house had somehow become more like the Burrow. Clearly, these dreams had been nothing more than the lies a brain tells to a hopeful heart. Whatever redeeming qualities he wanted his mother to have were imaginary, of course. He should have known; in his dreams his mother looked just as he remembered except for her hair, which was red as Mrs. Potter's.
That was a long time ago, too. Even Gil had a few silver streaks on his otherwise golden head, now. He was no longer the scared little boy that Albus Potter had rescued. He was his own person. He was confident, charming, and earnest. He had been working at the Ministry of Magic since he graduated from Hogwarts. He'd started as an assistant, but he'd gradually risen to become a prominent political figure, standing up for equality and fighting against the mistreatment of people who society thought were different.
As he started to climb the front steps, he listed his accomplishments in his head to combat the anxiety he felt. He was responsible for the St. Mungo's Rehabilitation for the Betterment of Incurable Witches and Wizards, a program to improve the living conditions in the long-term wing of St. Mungo's. He had started House to Home, a program to help young witches and wizards at Hogwarts who were rejected by their family for one reason or another. The program helped Muggleborns who had been thrown out of their parents' houses and squibs persecuted by their magical parents. He had even enlisted the help of several pureblood families. He was making a difference. He had championed a law which made it illegal to make hiring decisions based on blood level, family ties, sexuality, religion, or species. He stepped toward the door, and it creaked open.
The front parlor was empty. There were no bustling house elves as he remembered. There was no one there at all. There weren't even any lights on. He drew the curtains, dislodging a layer of dust.
"Mum?" he called out, not knowing where she could be. The word did not sit well in his mouth.
"Mother?" he tried again. Still no response, but he could live with calling her that.
As he continued his tour through the dilapidated house, he wondered how much of the disrepair was his fault. Had the world only tolerated the Greengrass family's conceit because they were successful, and when he revealed his experience in this house had all that success gone away? Had he changed the dynamics of his biological family without even knowing it?
He wandered through the house, calling "Mother" every so often to the emptiness. Finally, in the upstairs bedroom, he found her.
He almost passed by without seeing her. The room was pitch black, and she was extremely thin. She was barely a lump in the bed at all. But she moved at just the right time, and he saw her.
He approached her. "Mother?" he said, more quietly and gently.
"Gilbert? Is that you?" The voice didn't come from the bed, and Gil turned his head in surprise. The voice was scratchy, as though it hadn't been used in a long time. Approaching the chair in the corner where his mother sat, he watched a house elf he didn't recognize scuttle out of the room after making the bed.
He chuckled to himself. It was no wonder he hadn't seen her in the bed. She wasn't there. Still, as his eyes adjusted, he realized he hadn't been wrong in his assessment of her weight. He guessed that even if she had been in bed, it would have been hard to make her out against the dark blankets and the shadows thrown by the four-poster's curtains.
"Yes," he said awkwardly, "It's me."
"Come closer so I can see you."
Gil was strangely unwilling to do this. "Err, how about I open the curtains and let in a little light?" he suggested instead, reaching for the dark drapes.
He dropped his hand not because she told him to, but because he was so surprised to hear the protest. "Um, why not?" he asked.
"I don't let light in anymore. It hurts my eyes. It burns my skin. You understand."
"Are you afraid of it?" Gil asked sarcastically.
"Yes," his mother told him earnestly, "Oh, yes."
Having exhausted that line of inquiry, they existed in silence until Daphne asked her son to sit down across from her, a small table in between them. Gil complied, and the silence fell again.
As his eyes adjusted to the dark, Gil could begin to see why his mother didn't let light in anymore. Her brown hair was so thin that he could see her scalp through it, and when she rubbed her arm, there was a sound like paper crinkling. Gil couldn't help himself. He was disgusted.
"Your letter said it was urgent," he prompted, "Why did you want to see me?"
"I'm dying," his mother said, and then became so still that he thought for a moment those were her dying words.
He jumped at her raspy cough.
"I heard you're getting married," she said, "Who is she?"
He rolled his eyes. "He's from America. New York. His name is Bert. His family is…of no consequence," he said bitterly.
"You mean you never grew out of that phase?"
Anger begun to broil inside him. He pretended not to know what she meant. "What phase?"
"Gilbert," his mother said in a disappointed tone, as though to say "You know what I mean."
Gil ground his teeth, his stomach churning. "Look, I'm here, Mother, so tell me what you want or I'm leaving. I'm a grown man—"
"I brought you because I have a wedding present."
He scoffed. "We don't want anything from you."
"Hush! I know you hate me. I know I deserve it," she whined, "But tell me what you want. Three things. Anything! I'll get them."
Gilbert was again taken off-guard. She wanted to give him three presents? Of his choosing?
"An apology!" he blurted out, feeling childish. He had never expected an apology. He had never needed one. He knew that Albus saved his life, and his mother didn't deserve another thought. But now he was here, the need to hear her say something about how she had nearly ruined his life was overwhelming.
"I'm sorry," she said.
Gil frowned. "For what?" he pressed.
"For not being a better mother. What else?"
If Gil had thought he would feel better after hearing his mother accept even some culpability for her actions, he had been wrong. Anger still rose in him like bile.
"That's not good enough!" he snapped.
"That's all I have," she told him, unapologetically, "What else?"
Gil hadn't thought past his initial outburst. He looked around for inspiration. "I want you to give up this house," he said then, "And make it into an orphanage."
"I've left it to you," she told him, "Do what you like with it. What else?"
That wasn't a real answer, he thought to himself, but she was right. When she died he could do what he wanted with the house. He would no longer need her permission.
Gilbert Greengrass had never felt so angry in his life. Certainly, he had been sad throughout his childhood, but never angry. It hadn't occurred to him to be, and when it did, he already had the Potters and the Weasleys, and the thought of talking to his mother or father was more painful than any apology he might get.
But what was it that Albus said? "There are two types of anger: one is helpful. It forces you to do something. The other is useless, because there's nothing to be done."
This anger was useless. His mother was not going to change. He was not going to change. Their contact would shortly be over. She would be dead soon, and he would not have to remember her. There was nothing to be done. So what did he want from her?
Clearly, she felt guilty, though she was unwilling to admit it even now. Why else would she have asked him to come, when she was so close to death? No matter what her words seemed to say, she wanted to make up for something—for him.
Part of him wanted to thwart her – to tell her to rot in hell—but then he would be the one who had been cruel, and she would be somewhat justified. He couldn't have that.
Was there a way to satisfy them both? Could he free himself from this resentment and from her? Could he offer her what she wanted?
"I want…" he said, then hesitated. "I want you to forgive yourself."
Gilbert knew that he couldn't stay behind to see what she did. He wouldn't let her ruin the moment, so he ran. He ran down the stairs and out of the house. He Apparated to his apartment, where Bert was waiting, and ran into his arms. He cried. He grieved as if she had died while he was there, and maybe she did. He would never know. She was gone, in any case, from his life. But he was no longer angry, and the tears felt like the relief he'd always wanted. The forgiveness he gave her allowed him to forgive himself for ever listening to her. He was finally free.