I do not own Harry Potter.
"Water," croaked Dumbledore. His head lolled to the side, a whimper escaped his lips.
"Water," panted Harry. "Yes -"
In a daze, Harry leapt to his feet and seized the goblet he had dropped in the basin; he barely registered the golden locket lying curled beneath it.
"Auguamenti!" he shouted, jabbing the goblet with his wand.
The goblet filled with clear water; Harry dropped to his knees beside Dumbledore, raised his head, and brought the glass to his lips – but it was empty. Dumbledore groaned and began to pant.
"But I had some – wait – Auguamenti!" Harry said again, but no matter how many times he refilled the goblet, the water would vanish before it reached Dumbledore's mouth.
His brain whirled in panic; Harry knew the only way left to get water - the lake - because Voldemort had planned it so…
He flung himself over the edge of the rock and plunged the goblet into the lake, bringing it up full to the brim of icy water that did not vanish.
"Sir – here!" Harry yelled, and lunging forward, he tipped the water clumsily over Dumbledore's face.
It was the best he could do, for the icy feeling on his arm not holding the cup was not the lingering chill of the water. A slimy white hand gripped his wrist, and the creature to which it belonged to was pulling him backward across the rock.
Harry looked across the churning lake surface, white heads and hands were emerging from the dark water, moving toward the rock: an army of the dead rising from the black water.
"Petrificus Totalus!" yelled Harry, struggling to cling to the smooth, soaked surface of the island as he pointed his wand at the Inferius that had his arm. It released him, falling backward into the water with a splash; he scrambled to his feet, but many more Inferi were already climbing onto the rock, their bony hands clawing at its slippery surface, their black, frosted eyes upon him.
"Petrificus Totalus!" Harry bellowed again, backing away as he swiped his wand through the air. Six or seven of them crumpled, but more were coming toward him. "Impedimenta! Incarcerous!"
A few of them stumbled, one or two of them bound in ropes, but those climbing onto the rock behind them merely stepped over or on the fallen bodies. Still slashing at the air with his wand, Harry yelled, "Sectumsempra! SECTUMSEMPRA!"
Though gashes appeared in their sodden rags and on their icy skin, they had no blood to spill. They walked on, unfeeling, their shrunken hands outstretched toward him. As he backed away still farther, he felt arms enclose him from behind. They were thin, fleshless arms cold as death holding him.
His feet left the ground as they lifted him and began to carry him, slowly and surely, back to the water. He knew there would be no release, that he would be drowned, and become one more dead guardian of a fragment of Voldemort's shattered soul.
But then, through the darkness, fire erupted: crimson and gold, a ring of fire that surrounded the rock so that the Inferi holding Harry stumbled and faltered. They dropped Harry; he scrambled back up, ignoring his bleeding elbow, and raised his wand, staring around.
Dumbledore was on his feet again, pale as any of the surrounding Inferi, the fire dancing in his eyes. His wand was raised like a torch and from its tip emanated the flames, like a vast lasso, encircling them all with warmth.
Dumbledore scooped the locket from the bottom of the stone basin and stowed it inside his robes. Wordlessly, he gestured to Harry to come to his side.
Harry made to move towards Dumbledore but the Inferi, bumping into each other as they attempted to escape the fire jostled Harry about and made it impossible to get to the elder wizard.
Another Inferius slammed into Harry, making him lose his footing on the slippery rock. Harry thought he saw a flash of panic in Dumbledore's eyes as he began to fall backwards, wildly waving his arms until he grabbed hold of an Inferius with his free hand, pulling the creature with him as he tumbled through the ring of fire.
An unearthly scream erupted from the Inferius, who had caught fire and was emitting a foul smell, which burned Harry's nose. They plunged into the dark lake, extinguishing the flames, before bobbing to the surface. Harry quickly let go of the Inferius and tried to climb back onto the rock. But , the waters, which had stilled slightly at the light and warmth emanating from the island, began to churn once more as the sightless creatures grabbed Harry with their bony hands and, slowly, pulled him under the icy currents of the water.
Harry thrashed about, panicked, as he tried to escape the foul creatures. They pulled him deeper into the chilly darkness. He tried to stun them, but the cold that pierced through his body, the aching and tremors in his muscles, and the water that flooded his mouth and choked him as he tried to speak, kept him from doing so.
White spots dotted his field of vision. He found it harder, more tiring, to move. He began to struggle less and less, his head pounding and his vision turned grey to black, until he struggled and fought no more.
Harry was aware of a bright light, so bright that he could see it with his eyes closed, and the warmth surrounding him. He thought he heard a phoenix song…. He felt as he did when he was outside during his summers at the Dursley's, the sun beating down on him as he laid in the garden, listening to the news.
Harry knew there were no Dursleys though. This place was infinitely more peaceful and relaxing than his summer home.
"Time to get up Harry," a familiar voice said, as a large hand gently shook his shoulder. Harry attempted to squeeze his closed eyes tighter than they were, causing his nose and brow to wrinkle. He did not want to get up.
Harry reluctantly opened his eyes, blinking rapidly against the light. He looked up. He realized he was lying on the ground. He saw two dark, blurry figures, silhouettes against the blinding white light, standing above him. Harry thought they looked like the shadowy outlines you see out of the corner of your eye, late a night, in oppressive dark.
"Good morning, Harry," said the voice, amused.
"Sirius?" Harry asked, raising his hand to shield his eyes.
It nodded, his outline becoming sharper, more detailed. "Who else?" the corner of Sirius' mouth twitched upward.
"I – where am I? Am I – am I dead?" Shock colored Harry's voice.
Sirius looked back toward the other figures, silently communicating with slight nods and quirked eyebrows, before his gaze returned to Harry "That depends …"
" I…that's very vague…" The sound of his godfather's chuckle faded away when Harry looked at the two remaining shadows. "Who are they?" The figures stirred slightly, as if they were waiting anxiously.
"Your parents," Sirius said as he gestured at them to come closer.
They moved with an eerie grace, gliding towards Harry. The woman knelt down next to Harry, who had sat upright, and placed a warm hand on his cheek, smiling sadly.
Yes, it was his mother, a woman he'd only seen in pictures and mirrors. His father, who Snape always said Harry was just as arrogant and troublesome as, stood behind her, looking at Harry the way a father often looks at his son – with inexplicable pride.
Harry felt his throat dry up and looked away, overwhelmed.
Harry looked back at Sirius, who was watching Harry thoughtfully, "What did you mean before? About it depending on me?"
"You have a choice Harry. We don't know why – once again you're defying all logical explanations – but you're still tethered to life. You can choose to move on or you may go back to where you were."
"Where is…where is on? Here?" He looked around. It wasn't what he had expected.
Sirius let out a bark of laughter that echoed through the empty space, "No, this is merely a…meeting-place of sorts. A checkpoint - if you will – before going beyond."
"On, Harry," began his father, "On is," he paused, searching for the right words, "it's home. That's the best I can describe it."
Harry sat, weighing his options. He felt safe here, with the family he had always wanted, with his godfather. Home. His father said "On" was home; Harry would be going home. Could he really leave the world behind? His friends and adoptive family, leave them without a savior; leave them to struggle alone against the darkest wizard in history?
"I – I can't leave them…. not yet….I have a job to do…" Harry choked back a sob.
Lily hugged him, "Then you will go back."
"I don't -"
"We can wait Harry, we have all the time in the world. You must do what you feel is right." She let go of Harry, wiped his tears away.
Harry let out a quivering sigh, "I should – I need to – go back. But I want to go home," Harry stared at the emptiness surrounding them, "Send me back."
"You want to return?" Lily asked.
"Yes, I have to defeat Voldemort; I'm the only one who can. I can't leave them with…with my burden."
A watery smile crept onto James' face, "We're proud of you Harry, you're a brave man, taking all of this on, fighting for those you love. We couldn't have asked for a better son."
"I'll see you again?"
James nodded, "Goodbye, Harry. Kick snake-face's ass for us, okay?"
Harry smiled slightly as Lily glared at James, who shrugged unapologetically, and Sirius, who snickered behind his hand.