Tom Riddle strode along the gravelled lane, his black cloak whipping around him in the autumn gusts. It was nearly dark, and the sky was overcast. He'd need to light his wand to see where he was going shortly. He didn't care if any Muggles saw him. Let the Ministry muck about with them if they wished. Not that he wanted to publicly flaunt the Statute of Secrecy. It was simply that he couldn't be bothered to adjust his behaviour for the stupid, mewling worms.

The ring was hot on his finger, echoing the blood that coursed through his veins, propelled hard and fast in the wake of his stunning triumph. He had done it! He had created a Horcrux. The moment of victory, the look of abject horror on his father's face, the heart-stopping shriek of his grandmother... all etched forever more into his memory, a monument to his brilliance. He determined at that moment to appropriate the very next Pensieve that might find its way into Burke's shop.

He'd always known that he was special. Not like those feeble, worthless cankers he'd had to spend the first eleven years of his life with. Now he knew that he was special among wizards, too. Better, stronger, more focused. There was nothing he couldn't do. He could count less than a handful of living wizards who might compare to him. But he had the advantage over them, now, as well. He was on his way to immortality.

The wind was picking up, raising dry, brown leaves in tight eddies around him. He could smell the graveyard from here. Mossy and damp, rich and loamy. When he was younger, he used to be afraid of graveyards. Not because of the bones or the spirits, but because he feared the earth's suck and pull on him. Since he'd hit puberty, he'd been aware of the mortality of his flesh, had felt the beginnings of decay. There was only so much that potions could do. They, too, were of the earth. But this, this little twinkling jewel beating on his finger: It would keep him alive, regardless of what happened to this fleshy host.

The giant old oak was as he remembered it, dark and jagged, black claws grasping for the souls of the living who dared to enter its kingdom. Tom wasn't impressed. His soul was safe now. He rubbed the pad of his thumb over the glassy surface of the rock on his finger and was comforted.

He walked in a straight diagonal across the lawn, his boots sinking into the soft, soggy ground and treading over the faces of the unknown Muggles buried there. It was dark now, and he took out his wand. The stone he sought was unremarkable, indistinguishable from the hundreds of others around it, although he would have found the grave even in the absolute blackness of a new moon.

"Lumos!" he rasped, and the tip of his wand flared. Shadows jumped crazily on the tombstones, making gargoyles out of cherubs. He moved surely past a grave marker leaning toward him at a dangerous angle, and finally stopped in front of a shoulder-high tablet, covered with lichen and bird droppings. The wind slashed his hair across his face.

He held his wand close to the marker. The engraving was already half worn away in the cheap limestone:

MEROPE GAUNT

1890-1926

Tom's eyes gleamed in the magical light.

"I've done it, Mother. I've avenged you on the vermin who rejected you. Not for your sake. You were weak. You didn't know what power you had at your disposal. That was your mistake. But I know it. I, your son, Lord Voldemort. Behold!"

He thrust his fist at the gravestone. The black jewel was a sink hole in the ring he wore, reflecting nothing, a portal into infinity.

"If you had known this secret, you could have lived forever. What is your puling Muggle lover to eternity? Nothing. And now, he is a pile of oozing flesh, fit only to be eaten by maggots and reduced to the base earth from which he came. If you had been able to see beyond your own faint female heart, you might have ruled at my side. You would have been a Lord's queen, Mother. And look what you gave it all up for," he spat in disgust, gesturing around the empty cemetery. "This is your eternity. Surrounded by Muggles and dirt.

"I have learned from your mistakes, Mother. That is your legacy, along with the magic you infused me with. That is the only reason I allow you to rest here in peace, and not destroy you utterly. It is my gift to you. Good-bye, Mother. I will not visit again."

He turned and left, a shadow among shadows.

Author's note: I purposely left 'Riddle' off of the tombstone inscription. I figured the Riddles would never have paid for a tombstone for Merope, and her father wouldn't have wanted to put the Muggle name on.