DISCLAIMER: I don't own Merlin or Harry Potter. I do own a Darth Vader version of Mr. Potato Head, though, but it's not the same. At all. :)

A/N: Sorry for the sort of long wait, although it wasn't nearly as bad as last time! I'll go ahead and let you know that I'm a little over a month away from graduating from college, and so I'm really swamped right now not to mention that I'm going to do Camp NaNoWriMo next month so I'll be pretty busy for the next few weeks. I'll try to update whenever I have the chance, though.

Enjoy, read, and review! :)

The Most Hallowed Alliance

Chapter Eight: Horcrux

"A Horcrux," Harry began, his voice low and strained, "is a type of Dark Magic, some of the - if not THE - darkest in existence. You might have some early form of it where you come from, but I could be wrong. I just know the basics, and trust me - it's more than I'd like to know." He paused, taking a deep breath as he tried to collect his thoughts.

Morbid curiosity was assaulting Arthur, and from the interested but anxious expression on Merlin's face, he had a feeling that the sorcerer felt the same.

Still, despite his eagerness to know more so that they would have some idea of what they were up against, Arthur courteously said, "Take your time. We understand that this is difficult for you.'

Harry started out of his musings, while his friends - past and present - looked I. With concern and compassion mingling on their faces. "Oh," said Harry, "that's not it, exactly. I mean, it's horrible, and I hate thinking and talking about it, but I'm trying to think of a way to explain this that will make it easier to understand."

Despite himself, Arthur felt his pride rear up marginally inside of him and he grimaced. "Because we came before you, we are primitive, is that what you're saying? We aren't idiots. I'm not, at any rate."

Merlin shot Arthur a look that was half amused, half reprimanding. "Arthur," he said softly.

Hermione was quick to speak up. "Oh no, Harry didn't mean it like that. You have to understand that Horcruxes are a very, very dark form of magic, and this kind I magic isn't one that is pleasant to speak on or hear about. It's difficult to comprehend how and why anyone would want to commit such horrible acts of magic."

"Sorry, mates," Ron agreed. "This isn't going to be a fun conversation."

"Thank you for the warning," Merlin said, "but I have encountered much since we last fought together. Magic has been used in darker ways than I had ever thought possible before. You don't have to protect us."

"We can handle it," Arthur nodded fervently. "And anyway, after our adventures today in our future, I doubt anything could shock us any more."

"All right," Harry said. "A Horcrux is the result of a person using dark magic to split his soul in two - and basically putting the piece of his soul into something else for 'safekeeping.'"

Merlin blanched, exchanging a disturbed look with Arthur. "I have a feeling that I don't want to know what one has to do to accomplish that horrible act," he said warily.

"It is a disgusting magic," Hermione said, looking sickened. "The only way to create a Horcrux - to split one's soul - is to kill someone."

"Murder," Arthur said, reviled.

"It makes sense," Merlin said, a strange fierceness in his eyes. "To kill is a terrible thing. To take a life feels like your soul is splitting, even if it is just in a war or battle, or in your own defense. But to do it intentionally, purposefully, just to do it... It comes as no surprise to me that You-Know-Who has done this successfully."

Arthur looked disturbed as well, but he managed to shake off his outward revulsion quicker than Merlin, possibly due to his familiarity with death due to his being a knight who had been required, on many occasions, to take a life in battle. Despite this, there was still a troubled look in his eyes. "So we are looking for Vo - er, You-Know-Who's," he amended as he got a dark look from Ron, "Horcrux, and destroy it? Doesn't sound too hard," the prince decided as his usual confidence (or arrogance, as Merlin insisted) set in.

At his words, Harry, Ron, and Hermione exchanged a round of looks that shifted from worried to almost sympathetic. Merlin grimaced. "It's... not going to be that easy... is it?" he asked in a resigned voice.

"You-Know-Who didn't just make one Horcrux," said Ron. "He didn't split his soul just once."

"He split it seven times," Harry said, and Merlin's and Arthur's eyes widened in horror. "How many people would you have to murder to split your soul that many times? And what kind of person would..." He trailed off, his expression distant.

There was a tense, solemn silence while each of the five young people sat, contemplating their own thoughts, or fighting their inner battles. Finally, Merlin broke the silence, his voice grave and with no trace of his humor from earlier in his tone. "So we are looking for seven of these Horcruxes, then?"

"Five, actually," Harry corrected. "I destroyed one, although I didn't know it at the time, when I was twelve, in the Chamber of Secrets – long story," he said, as Arthur and Merlin looked at him curiously.

"Seriously, mate," Ron backed his friend up. "You could write a whole book about all that happened that year."

"Who would want to write about that?" Harry asked, eyebrows furrowed.

"You'd be surprised," Hermione said wisely.

"Anyway," Harry said as he tried to steer the conversation back on course, "I destroyed that one. And Professor Dumbledore . . . well, he destroyed another."

"Do you know what they are?" Merlin asked hopefully. "Any ideas where to start?"

"We know what and where one is," Harry answered, "but we don't know for sure. All we do know is that in order for us to kill him, we have to get rid of all of his Horcruxes. Otherwise, we will fail. By creating seven Horcruxes – something that no one has ever done before – he has basically made himself immortal."

"Well," Merlin said, trying to remain positive despite the seeming impossibility of the situation, "at least we have something to go by. Where is this first Horcrux?"

"It's going to be difficult to get to, seeing as it has fallen into the hands of one of the worst people possible," Hermione said glumly. "Her name is Dolores Umbridge, and it's going to be hell trying to get it back from her."

"Great," Arthur said sarcastically, flashing a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "I can't wait."

Later that night, Merlin was lying on top of the blankets of his bed in one of the guest bedrooms. It was on the second floor, it was dingy, dark, and depressing, and it reminded Merlin of a darker, danker, and slightly larger version of his own room in Camelot. The young warlock's mind was spinning frantically as he tried to make some semblance of sense out of everything that he had heard today.

It wasn't the sheer difficulty – borderline impossibility – of the task ahead that bothered him. It wasn't the fact that he was hundreds of years out of time, and so far from his home. It wasn't the prospect of meeting Voldemort again, something he'd hoped he'd never have to do again, and thought about every time he saw the scar on his chest.

It was the Horcruxes.

The idea made Merlin physically sick to his stomach. The soul was the most important part of a person. It was who they were, what they had been, and what they would always be. It was a person's past, present, and future. It was everything they liked, everything they hated, and everything that made them who they were. It was their life, even more important than their physical body. Merlin truly believed that the soul was the absolute essence of a being, and that a soul's entirety was what made it human.

To split a soul was unthinkable to the sorcerer. It was, in Merlin's eyes, worse than dying. It was taking everything that mattered and turning it into scraps of nothing. It was taking the greatest, most revered magic in existence – essentially, the magic of existence – and reducing it to ashes. Nothing good could come of splitting a soul, only pure evil. And the manner in which a person would make Horcruxes . . .

Merlin closed his eyes for a moment, trying to get a grip on his emotions. His eyes stung, but he tried his best to ignore the sensation. He had killed people, yes, but he had only killed in order to protect himself and the people he cared about. Even though the people whose lives he had taken were evil, and he had only killed them out of necessity, Merlin still remembered every person that he had ever killed. Sometimes, he would wake up at night in a cold sweat, the faces of those he'd killed spinning in his mind. He would block them out, try not to think about the grieving mother pretending to be Lady Helen, or Sophia and her father, or . . .

Merlin tried to stop this train of thought, but the guilt was eating at him anew. He couldn't understand the all-consuming evil that would have to be in a person's heart in order for them to willingly murder people in order to ensure their own immortality. The idea sickened him.

For a split second, Merlin found himself wishing that he hadn't let Neville into his dream. He wished that he was back in Camelot, doing Arthur's laundry, shining his armor – he would even take being Arthur's punching bag on the training field to this! As powerful as Merlin was, and as powerful as he knew he was destined to become, the thought of facing, once again, this man with a heart so corrupted with vile, demonic hatred and darkness that he would kill countless innocents to stay alive sent a spike of fear through his heart that nearly stopped it. He took a deep breath, told himself to grow up, and rolled over onto his side, trying to think of other things.

It didn't work, and he ended up falling asleep to the laments of the long dead, their ghastly faces leering at him from beyond their graves for the entire night.

Arthur didn't fare much better.

He sat on the edge of his bed in his own guest chamber, looking around the gloomy place in the flickering light from the magically burning wall sconces around him. The bed was creaky, and the mattress soft, although nowhere nearly as comfortable as Arthur's own at home. The walls were cracked, and the dark grey wallpaper was peeling. A small desk littered with moth-eaten papers and a few dusty books was in one corner. A dresser was in the other. There was nothing else in the room.

Arthur thought about going down the hall and finding Merlin. He wondered if his servant was still awake, or if he was being haunted by the dark prospect of their quest as well. He knew what a sensitive person Merlin was, and had a feeling that the idea of a Horcrux, as horrifying as it was to Arthur, would affect the wizard even more than it did the prince. He remembered Merlin's reaction so many years ago when the prince killed the unicorn, and how Merlin abhorred the unnecessary taking of life, although Arthur knew for a fact that Merlin had killed some people too, out of defense.

Arthur was a little more accustomed to death than his servant was, or at least to being on the triumphant side of the sword. He had killed in combat, in battles, and, yes, even in challenges by other knights. He still remembered the young man who had challenged him to a fight, and whom he had killed, and whose father sent an assassin after Arthur in revenge. That boy's face haunted him now, and Arthur couldn't help but think about all the lives he'd taken in battle without a second thought. It wasn't that he regretted it; no, if it meant protecting Camelot and the people he cared about, he would do the same in a heartbeat. It was his duty as a prince, as a son, as a friend, as a knight, as a comrade, and as a master.

Like Merlin, though, he could barely comprehend the idea of killing someone to make yourself stronger. He knew that Lord Voldemort was a monster from the time that Arthur had seen him in Camelot (although, admittedly, he hadn't done much in that confrontation, considering that he had been the only one without magic in the fight), but this was almost unbelievable.

Arthur stood up and moved to the door. His hand had already grasped the handle before he changed his mind. He would go to Merlin under the pretense of making sure his cowardly, idiotic servant wasn't scared of the dark in this new place, but he would actually be going because he himself didn't want to be alone in this old, foreign house with its dark secrets, with his own troubling thoughts. He knew Merlin, and he knew man would see right through him. Merlin wouldn't say anything, of course, but he might raise an eyebrow or smirk a little bit, even if he were just as grateful for Arthur's company as Arthur would be for his, and Arthur wasn't going to humiliate himself like that.

Arthur walked back across the room, but this time, he went to the desk instead of back to bed. Sitting down on the rickety old desk chair, the prince of Camelot shuffled through some of the papers peppering the surface, but didn't see anything of much interest, or that he could really read, due to wear on the pages and the difficult handwriting.

He pushed the handwritten papers aside and reached for the two books. He saw that one was titled A Detailed Look into the Life of an Inferior Being (A Study on Muggles and Why They Are Beneath Us) by Randalfa Cranshaw. He wrinkled his nose in disgust, recalling how Harry had told him that the people who had formerly owned the house (excluding his late godfather, Sirius) had been extremely anti-muggle. Being what wizards in this day and age deemed a "muggle" himself, Arthur took great offense to this old tome and promptly tossed it aside, not willing to so much as crack the cover.

The second book looked more promising, entitled The Greatest Wizards in Known History, Third Edition by Artemis DuLak. It had a picture of an old man on the front, and it had to be the absolute oldest man that Arthur had ever seen. He stared at the portrait of the snowy haired elder with fascination. The man's beard and hair were long, spilling past his shoulders until it disappeared at the bottom of the picture. Intense blue eyes looked at him from the wrinkled, speckled face. Arthur peered closer; something about those eyes reminded him of someone . . .

The eyes blinked. Arthur jumped back, startled, as the old man's hand rose and scratched an ear. The blue eyes looked up at Arthur, and the portrait's mouth fell open. It was like the old man in the picture was actually looking at Arthur, and was, for some reason, surprised to see him. Arthur had seen a couple of moving portraits in Grimmauld Place today, but for some reason, this old man unnerved him more than the others – but that wasn't to say that the glaring, leering portraits of various members of the Black family hadn't scared the hell out of him when they shook their fists at him and muttered insults about there being a filthy muggle in their noble house.

Quickly opening the book, Arthur's eyes fell on a small inscription on the first page. It was written in clear but small writing, and it was about the picture on the front: Merlin by Chancery Terrance, 1500 A.D. One of the only reputedly accurate portraits of the great wizard, painted shortly before his voyage to Avalon

Arthur's hands were shaking slightly. Of course he'd recognized the man on the front! It was Merlin, and he was so old that he made Gaius look like a spry young man! Arthur read the note again, this time focusing on the last part. By this time, Arthur would have been dead for many years, it seemed, but he supposed that Merlin's great power was going to keep him alive longer than the average person. But according to this account, Merlin was going to die shortly after he posed for this picture. A small knot formed in Arthur's gut as he thought first about how Merlin was going to go on and continue doing great things long after his master was dead, and about how even Merlin would die someday – that is, if they didn't wind up getting themselves killed now! The truth of their mortality suddenly sprung upon the prince, and he slammed the book shut, shoving it away from him.

He stood, wiping his sweating palms on his trousers, and admonished himself for being such a child about this. He started for his bed, but turned back and grabbed the discarded book, flipping it open and finding the section labeled "Merlin, Emrys, the Man of Legend." Taking a deep breath, Arthur sat on his bed and began to read.

A/N: I am well aware that not much happened in this chapter, other than characters working through their emotional and mental problems, but you can think of this as the calm before the storm, if you like. Next chapter, we'll be skipping about two or three weeks into the future, when the five friends (what do you call a group of five? A trio is three, a quartet is four . . . but what's five?) put their plan to recover the locket in to motion! :) I hope you enjoyed the chapter anyway, despite the lack of action or plot development, really, but it's more of a psychological chapter, so. . .

Okay, I'm going to stop trying to justify myself. It's my story, darn it, and I shouldn't feel guilty about writing a slower chapter! ;) LOL!

Anyway, I will update as soon as I can. In the meantime, please review! :o)

~Emachinescat ^..^