Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
"Are you quite certain, Severus?"
"I am, my lord. The information comes from Dumbledore himself. And it would make sense, considering the small matter of the connection between the two of you."
Voldemort's breath left him in an irritated hiss. "So, he thinks he can fool me? Thinks that I'll just play along with his game and kill a piece of myself? If that is indeed the case, Severus, then I refuse to play his game. I'll change the rules instead. Harry Potter is mine, and I won't have him injured."
"Of course, my lord," Severus agreed with a low bow of his head. It was exactly as he'd hoped. Of course Voldemort wasn't willing to allow one of his horcruxes to be potentially destroyed. He would keep Potter safe.
"Does Dumbledore know anything of my others? Or is it just Harry that he knows about?"
"I believe that he knows of several, my lord. It is my understanding that Dumbledore intends on going after your ring at some point this summer, perhaps within the next week or so."
Voldemort let out a soft, hissing laugh that was filled with amusement. "Is that what he intends? Then I suppose he would just be ever so disappointed if there was nothing waiting for him when he got there, wouldn't he?" he asked through his laughter.
"He would indeed, my lord," Severus agreed.
"And… tell me, Severus, do you believe that Harry will eventually grow to appreciate what I intend to do to keep him safe?"
Severus took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "There is… information that I possess which will, I believe, make him far more amenable to a change in his loyalties. Provided, of course, that you are not overly averse to the idea of his learning that he is in fact one of your horcruxes."
Voldemort sat up straight in his chair, then, and all the amusement faded from his expression. "In that case, Severus, I've new orders for you. I want Harry safe and out of the hands of Dumbledore. You have access to his summer residence, yes?"
"I do, my lord," Severus said.
"Then you will take him from there. Tell him whatever you deem prudent, so long as it ensures his cooperation. I will have a Muggle driver meet you at his summer residence, and you will escort him to a safe location. Since I've no doubt Dumbledore will notice him missing and will call upon you to join the search, you will leave him in the hands of the person who meets you there."
"Of course, my lord." Severus bowed low to the Dark Lord and, when he was dismissed, he left.
How could Dumbledore have been so foolish as to forget the nature of Severus' oaths? His loyalty was to Harry, and Severus would do anything to keep him alive. He'd sworn no loyalty to Dumbledore, none to the Order. Just to Harry, in his mother's name.
Perhaps Harry wouldn't be happy with the hand that life was dealing him. He would be furious and betrayed at the information that Severus was going to give him, but… but he would be alive to be unhappy, and that was what mattered. It might not be what Harry would have wanted, and it might not be what Lily would have wanted, but it was something.
The Dark Lord would make certain that Harry stayed alive, and that was more than he could say for Dumbledore.
There it was.
It was beautiful. It was nothing like what he'd expected, and yet, it was everything he could have hoped for. The magic pouring from the stone was breathtaking. How could Voldemort not have realized what he'd had in his possession?
Albus couldn't resist. He reached out, picked up the ring, and placed it upon his finger. It looked perfect. It was perfect.
At least, it was perfect for the second he had before his finger began burning fiercely. Albus tore the ring from his finger and flung it away, but it was too late. Already there was a small, painful black spot of rot on the finger where the ring had rested, and it was slowly spreading. Had the ring been a trap? But… how could Voldemort have known that Albus was coming?
He couldn't have. There was no way he could have known. Perhaps Voldemort really was just that paranoid. This was one of the things anchoring his soul to the world, after all. Had he ever been so foolish to create a horcrux, Albus knew that he, too, would have been rather paranoid in the protection of them.
He'd been an idiot, he supposed.
And then, as he was about to leave the remains of the shack, he appeared. Albus drew his wand but realized before he could embarrass himself with the first curse that he was looking at some sort of illusion. It had to have activated when he'd put the ring on his finger, or perhaps even when he'd picked the ring up in the first place.
"Oh, Albus, you've gone and made things so much easier on me," Voldemort said with a vicious grin. "As though I would have ever left one of my seven horcruxes just lying around for you to destroy. What sort of fool do you take me for? I would never leave anything of mine in your hands for long. The lack of care you take with your things is appalling."
Voldemort's bloodthirsty grin softened. "I have no doubt that you'll be able to slow the progression of this curse. But you won't be able to stop it entirely, and in the end, it will kill you. The rot will spread from your finger to your arm, and up through to your heart. Once it reaches there, you will die an excruciating death. I was going to make dear Draco kill you, but I've another task in mind for him now."
"Best of luck to you, Albus. This is the last I'll be bothering with you, so good luck with the rest of your life. It will be terribly short, but I suppose you could still make it sweet."
The projection faded with an amused chuckle from the Dark Lord, and Dumbledore closed his eyes. If Voldemort was to be believed, he was dying. But he at least now knew how many horcruxes there were. That was… it was something. The ring was undoubtedly a fake, but at least he had something to go on now. He could at least continue his research. The information could be given to Harry, at least some of it, and the rest could go to Severus.
It wasn't an ideal situation, of course. Albus had intended to see this through, to live in a peaceful world with no Dark Lord. But at least one way or another, Voldemort would fall. Albus had done so much in the name of that goal, he couldn't imagine any other outcome.
Voldemort had to fall, once and for all. He was going to make sure of it.
A/N: Pairings for this story will include Harry/Draco, Harry/Voldemort, possible Harry/Draco/Voldemort, Remus/Severus, and others to be announced. Individual chapters may have warnings at the top that I strongly advise you pay attention to. This story was initially intended to be a prequel to my one-shot "The Road to Hell," but I've since changed my plans. While many things may work out in the same way as they did in that story, I don't intend for every character's fate to be as it was mentioned in that story.
As usual with my stories, this is a work in progress. It will update when I have time and when the next chapter is ready. School is in session, so I don't know when that will be.