Epilogue

"May the circle be unbroken."

—Country gospel song


16th January 1990

Hermione is 10

It feels like I'm cheating; it's probably snowing back home and here I am at the beach, and the sun is shining so brightly it feels like it will never be cold again. Mum and Dad have retreated under the brolly; they're bright red already. Mum doesn't understand why I haven't become red and crispy, either, but I told her it's simple: "I don't want to burn." She rolled her eyes at me and told me there's no way to will yourself not to burn.

I wander down the beach a little. A group of kids are playing cricket and they shout to each other in a broad, Australian twang. A toddler chases a big, fat seagull, but it's too fast for him and he falls onto his nappy-padded bum. He sticks a handful of sand into his mouth, and I think that I'll never want to have children: I'd rather become a scientist or a doctor, thank you very much.

Right at the edge of the beach, where the bay curves away into headland, there's an old couple sitting under a brolly. They're both reading, and I smile. I'd like to get married one day, if I could have a man like that to read with, I think. Somebody intelligent. Not like the boys at my school. They're not talking, but there's some aura of quiet companionship between them that draws me to walk closer to where they are sitting, up away from the tide line where the sea had been sucking at my ankles.

The woman glances over the edge of her book. She's got grey, curly hair. It bounces like a spring in the wind. God. I hope my hair doesn't look like that when I'm old; mine is also curly and bouncy. I hate it. The sun is warm on my back, and the sand on my skin itches suddenly. I shrug my shoulders, trying to get rid of the strange tingle. The wind gusts suddenly and a hat cartwheels across the sand towards me. I bend to pick it up, and I carry it over to them.

"Thank you very much, young lady," she says in crisp, clear notes that sound like home, smiling. She's got lovely warm eyes… so friendly and so knowing.

"You're welcome," I tell her. "Are you also from England?" I ask.

The man drops his book, now, and gazes at me with black, black eyes. His hair is long and grey, his nose is very big; he looks like an old hippie, I think. "A long time ago," he says to me. His voice is low and deep and smooth, like chocolate.

"We're just on holiday," I inform them. I scratch at the tingle on my arm again. I shouldn't be talking to strangers, but there's something so familiar about them… something that itches under my skin, hides just around the corner.

"A traveller," the woman says, smiling at me. Her teeth are even and straight; Mum and Dad would approve. I'm going to have to wear braces to straighten my horsey teeth, I think sourly. "Well… all travellers need a guide," she says, reaching behind her neck suddenly. Then she stretches out her arm; she's dangling a silver chain from her fingertips. "Please… take it; I don't need it any longer." She smiles at the man like she's sharing a private joke with him.

I hesitate for an instant before I let the silver pool into my palm. There's a small, round, silver charm on the chain.

"Saint Christopher," she explains, "is the patron saint of travellers." She smiles at me kindly. "So, you will always travel safely and find your way home."

I slide the chain on over my neck, and the charm settles against my skin with familiar ease. "Thank you," I say, astounded by the stranger's generosity.

"Travel safely," the woman says.

I turn to walk back up the beach, and I hear the man chuckle softly. "And so the circle remains unbroken," he says.

I turn and wave goodbye. The sun is warm on my skin again; the tingling is gone.