‘My wanna money f’ kissmas,’ said Al suddenly, surprising Harry. He had been concentrating on reversing the Range Rover into a parking space when Al spoke; consequently he hadn’t been tuned in to Al’s particular version of English pronunciation.
They’d had a very busy day; Al and James had been on their feet for hours, running and laughing as they moved around the zoo. Harry’s younger son had been yawning for some time. Al’s head had dropped forwards as they drove through the city streets and Harry had assumed that he had fallen asleep. Momentarily unable to make sense of Al’s indecipherable words, he glanced across at his wife and raised an eyebrow enquiringly. Al’s sudden request seemed more than a little unusual.
‘I’m sorry, Al, but you can’t have a monkey for Christmas,’ said Ginny, answering and translating at the same time.
‘Can I?’ asked James hopefully. ‘They’s funny.’
‘Yes, James have one, pulleeez, Moomee,’ Al added his voice to that of his brother, this time trying a more subtle and polite approach.
‘They are funny. But monkeys aren’t pets, boys,’ Ginny told their sons. ‘I know that they made you laugh when you saw them at the zoo, but they are kept in big enclosures for a reason; they need a lot of room. They can’t live in a house, and they bite, so no, I am sorry, but you can’t have a monkey either, James.’
‘Huh,’ James grunted his displeasure. ‘I never gets nothing I wants.’ His annoyance, however, was forgotten almost immediately. ‘What’s ’at? Where is us now?’ He asked. James was leaning sideways in his car seat and pointing at the floodlit rock in front of them.
‘We are still in Edinburgh, James. We’ve just been to Edinburgh Zoo, and that is Edinburgh Castle. We can go and take a look around it tomorrow, if you want. Would you like that?’ asked Harry.
‘Hmmm…’ James’s answer began with an uncertain mumble as he gazed curiously up at the floodlit rock. ‘Dunno,’ he responded uncertainly.
Harry watched James in the mirror, and saw a cunning expression light up his son’s face. He immediately guessed what was coming and, just as he expected, James made a last ditch effort.
‘Rather have a monkey,’ James said, as though it was a perfectly natural alternative to visiting a castle. Harry and Ginny exchanged a smile, and pretended not to hear.
Harry pulled on the handbrake, unbuckled his seatbelt and climbed out from the warm shelter of the car. The vindictive northerly wind attacked immediately, turning his breath into a fine fog as it attempted to blast the warmth from him. He quickly opened Al’s door, reached into the gap between Al’s seat and James’s seat and grabbed his coat. He also picked up Ginny’s coat and placed it in his wife’s backward-reaching hand.
They’d soon need to find somewhere else to keep the coats, he realised. The thought made him grin foolishly.
‘Thanks, Harry,’ Ginny said as, still seated, she began to struggle into her coat.
I’ll get you out in a minute, Al,’ Harry said, avoiding Al’s grasping hands. He closed Al’s door to protect his boys from the wind, pulled on his coat and strode quickly around to Ginny’s door. He arrived just as she opened it.
‘I can manage, Harry,’ his wife protested.
‘It’s a cold, dark and windy night, and the cobbles are slippery,’ Harry told her firmly. ‘You don’t want to fall, do you?’
‘I’m pregnant, Harry, not incapable,’ Ginny protested. Harry simply grinned and reached out to hold her hand anyway. She gave in and allowed him to help her down from their car.
‘If you’re sure that you aren’t incapable, big-bump…’ said Harry. The treacherous wind blew his final word away from her.
‘Big what?’ asked Ginny sharply. Her eyes scorched him. She had not been sleeping well, and tiredness was making her even more short-tempered than usual.
‘Big bumP.’ Harry hastily emphasised the p. He pulled her into a tight hug, caressed her swollen belly, and kissed her forehead. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked. ‘Baby isn’t kicking you in the bladder or anything, is she?’
‘Don’t make such a fuss, Harry,’ Ginny ordered. ‘I’m fine, honestly. I’m a little breathless, but that’s to be expected. She’s been quiet today.’
‘But not too quiet?’ Harry asked, suddenly worried.
‘No, Harry, she’s moving, but not kicking hard. She isn’t as energetic as James was, but she isn’t as quiet as Al was, either. Please don’t fuss.’ Ginny kissed him.
‘In that case, can you get the boys ready while I get the luggage?’
‘Of course,’ she said, squeezing his hand fondly.
Harry strode around to the boot and beginning to unpack. Al’s pushchair was the first thing he lifted out. He had it unfolded and ready by the time Ginny placed their younger son onto the pavement. While she was strapping him in, and readjusting his bright yellow bobble-hat, Harry pulled out one very small and two large suitcases, and placed them on the flagstones.
Ginny had already fastened James into his coat; Harry lifted him from his car seat, stood him on the pavement, and crouched down in front of him. The wind continued to nip at Harry’s hands and face as he pulled James’s bright orange mittens from his elder son’s pocket and helped him to put them on. When James finally cooperated, and put his thumbs where they were supposed to be, Harry stood and inspected his firstborn.
James’s woolly hat, with two woolly cannonballs dangling from it, matched the mittens. The hat and mittens had been a present from Ron (theoretically they were from Hermione too, but Harry knew that Hermione had little say in her husband’s fanatical purchase of Chudley Cannons’ children’s merchandise). The hat clashed with James’s auburn hair, and with almost every item of clothing he had. Ginny had objected strenuously to her brother’s attempt at early indoctrination. She’d failed. Because of the dangling cannonballs, the hat and gloves were James’s favourites.
Harry locked the car, pocketed the key, and finally found the opportunity to put on his own hat and gloves.
‘Do you want me to carry your case, James?’ asked Ginny as she adjusted her green scarf, gloves, and beret.
‘No, fanks, Mummy, I’m a big boy, I can manage,’ James pulled up the handle and began to drag his little case along the path. Harry and Ginny exchanged a smile, and watched him head off down the street. He stopped and looked back worriedly.
‘Where we goin’?’ he asked.
‘Side Way,’ said Ginny. ‘It’s this way. Follow me, James.’
She set off down the well-lit street pushing Al’s buggy away from the castle, and leaving Harry with the two large cases.
After he’d magically protected the car, Harry muttered a spell over the luggage. He then picked up the two, now almost weightless, cases and followed his wife and sons. They soon turned off the well lit street and into a dark and narrow alley; James slowed and nervously looked over his shoulder.
‘It’s okay, James. Just follow Mummy, I’m right behind you,’ Harry reassured his son.
When they reached the end of the alley, Ginny drew her wand and tapped on a plain wooden door. The door swung silently open and Harry followed his family into Side Way, the magical centre of Edinburgh. The moment they stepped through the door it noiselessly closed behind them.
The Potters stood and gazed down the street in wonderment. Compared to the unlit alley they had just left, it was eye-burningly bright. Banners and illuminations hung high above the street. Everything was magically animated. Christmas crackers exploded noisily, stars twinkled and shone, and parcels glowed. Every shop was decorated for Christmas.
‘Look at a wand. Look at a Santa!’ James squealed, pointing at the decorations hanging above the street.
‘Santa!’ Al squeaked a happy confirmation. ‘Kissmas.’
‘Kissmas,’ Harry confirmed. He slid his arm as far as it would go around his wife’s swollen waistline and kissed her cheek. ‘I like kissmas.’
‘So do I, Harry,’ Ginny whispered as she returned his hug.
As the Potters strolled slowly down the street, pointing at the illuminations and gazing into the shop windows, they were just another family staring at the Christmas lights. They passed the local Ministry building—the Scottish Office—and a fish and chip shop called “The Big Bite”.
‘I is hungry!’ James announced as the smell of fish and chips wafted from the open door of the carry out. ‘I wants chips.’
‘We’ll eat soon, James,’ Harry promised. ‘We’re going down to check into the hotel now. We’re staying at the Wand and Thistle tonight, and tomorrow night, too. It’s at the end of the street. Can you see it?’ Harry pointed at the palatial granite structure at the far end of the street. ‘We need to let them know that we’re here, and then we can find somewhere to eat.’
They continued down Side Way, but did not get very far. A huge crowd of people were staring into a series of shop windows. The shop, according to the ornate green letters affixed above the windows was called “Phoenix”. There was nothing else to identify the place, although from the sheer size of the frontage, it seemed to Harry that the place must be a department store.
‘Look at eh windows!’ James squealed. He dashed forward, dragging his little case behind him. Harry gazed in slack-jawed astonishment at the shop windows. Ginny stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek.
‘I was told stories about “Phoenix’s windows” when I was small,’ Ginny told him. ‘When I suggested that we bring the kids to Edinburgh for a few days it was partly to see this for myself. It’s even more impressive than I imagined.’
Harry simply nodded. The shop front consisted of six huge windows, and in each window a story was being enacted by magically animated figures. In the first window, while Santa slept in a rocking chair, parcels were being wrapped and labelled and dropped down a chute by very busy house-elves. Harry blinked rapidly and glanced at Ginny. He was convinced that he’d just seen the names Harry, Ginny, James and Albus written on the labels by the animated elf. Ginny was beaming.
‘I saw it, too,’ she confirmed. ‘It must be some sort of identification spell, like the Marauder’s Map, or the Ministry security system.’
Al was frantically demanding to be released from his buggy, and James was in serious danger of disappearing into the multitude. While Ginny unfastened Al, Harry dropped the suitcases and retrieved a protesting James, and his case, from the crowd. Securing the cases to the buggy, and placing an alarm spell on them, just in case, Harry lifted Al onto his shoulders.
With James between them, tightly holding his parent’s hands, the Potters spent almost half an hour simply staring at the colourful display in the shop window. They watched sacks being loaded onto a sleigh in one window, saw Santa being tipped out of his rocking chair and woken up by a naughty elf in another, and finally in the last window, watched the laden sleigh fly out through the glass and vanish into the night sky.
The main store entrance was next to the final window. The doors were angled on the corner of the building, with the store name illuminated in bright green above them. Next to the store a wide alley led to a street of what seemed to be residential properties.
‘At is better’n a zoo,’ James announced happily as the magical sleigh again flew through the window and shot into the night sky.
‘Better’n zoo,’ Al confirmed, his eyes shining in wonderment. ‘Bye, Santa,’ he waved at the spot where the sleigh had vanished.
Harry retrieved their cases and the buggy, returned a protesting Al to his seat and they resumed their stroll along Side Way.
‘Want chips,’ James reminded his parents. ‘Very hungry.’
‘We’ll eat soon, James,’ Ginny promised as they hurried along to the Wand and Thistle.
There were two entrances to the inn. An ornate set of double doors in the centre of the frontage were presided over by a uniformed doorman. To the right, above a second more modest entrance, a sign indicated the presence of the “saloon bar”. The bar was crowded and raucous and before they had reached it the doorman was already anticipating their arrival at his more sedate portal.
‘Mr Potter, Mrs Potter,’ the man nodded a polite greeting as he held open the door. A bellboy was already on his way to collect their cases. There were a few moments confusion in the foyer. It took Ginny some time to persuade James to hand over his case, which contained his precious teddy bear, to this strange man.
‘It’s extremely valuable, take good care of it,’ Ginny warned the bellboy.
They followed the young man through the foyer, past a collection of comfortable-looking armchairs and sofas. To the right an arched entrance led to a genteel and expensive-looking restaurant. The Reception desk was ahead, and a side door to the bar on the right. The reception witch was extremely efficient and they were soon in their fifth floor suite, where they hastily dumped their cases. While they had been in the lift, James had again been loudly reminding them of his hunger.
‘We’ll go back to that fish and chip shop,’ Ginny announced. ‘James wants his chips, and I’ve had an unhealthy craving for battered cod ever since we passed the place.’
‘But…’ Harry began.
‘The hotel restaurant looks wonderful, Harry,’ she said. ‘But I really do want that cod, and we won’t have to wait for waiters to take our orders and for the meals to be prepared. We can eat here tomorrow night.’
‘I is very, very, hungry, an’ I really wants chips,’ James added his voice to the debate.
‘Okay, let’s go back to the Big Bite and get some fish and chips,’ Harry said.
‘And mushy peas,’ Ginny added.
‘Now,’ James demanded.
Harry checked his watch, it was almost seven o’clock. James usually had usually eaten at least an hour earlier, and he had a Weasley-like tendency to crabbiness when he was hungry. Leaving the unopened cases on the bed, Harry picked up Al and prepared to leave.
‘Let’s go,’ he said. And so they strode back out of the inn minutes after their arrival.
They were delayed, once again, by the shop window. The store was now closed, and the crowds at the window had thinned a little, but the window was as bright and animated as ever. Al was sitting on Harry’s shoulders and excitedly pointing at everything.
‘Santa, parcel, elf, pwesent, twain,’
‘Present, train,’ Harry corrected automatically.
‘Pwesent, twain,’ Al confirmed. Harry sighed.
‘He’ll grow out of it, Harry,’ said Ginny quietly. Harry nodded.
‘I wonder how they do it?’ Harry asked as he watched the laden sleigh vanish into the night sky once more. ‘It must be remarkably complicated magic.’
‘Perhaps it’s better not to know,’ a deep and crisp voice said evenly. ‘Perhaps knowing how it is done would undo the magic. Or perhaps it’s simply Christmas magic, Mr Potter. Even Muggles can feel the magic of Christmas, you know.’
Harry turned to see who had spoken. He found himself face to face with a portly, red-faced man with a bushy white beard. The man’s resemblance to the animated Santa in the shop windows was remarkable.
‘Santa!’ Al screamed excitedly. The man beamed and pushed his half-moon glasses back up his nose.
‘Santa!’ James confirmed. ‘But where’s a red robes?’
‘Do you really think I’m Father Christmas, Al? Do you, James?’ the bearded man asked. ‘Don’t you think that Santa will be very busy now? He must be very busy, too busy to walk around Edinburgh looking at shop windows. Perhaps I simply look a little like Father Christmas.’
James’s face creased in puzzlement. The man smiled and winked at Harry and Ginny, his eyes twinkling.
‘Unless I really am who you think I am. Perhaps I’m not wearing red because then everyone would recognise me. Perhaps I’m in disguise and looking around the streets, to see which children have been good; and which ones have been naughty. Have you been good boys this year?’ He asked.
‘Yes,’ squeaked Al, nodding his head so vigorously that his hat fell off.
‘Every day?’ asked James worriedly. The man chuckled and patted James’s head.
‘He’s good most of the time,’ said Harry.
‘That’s all right, then,’ the man said. He looked down at James, smiled, and raised his eyes to look into Harry’s and Ginny’s faces. ‘That’s me,’ he told them. He pointed at the shop window, in which a placard read “Santa’s Busiest Day, courtesy of N J Phoenix, Dept. Store”. ‘You can call me Nick,’ he added.
‘Santa, my wanna money f’ kissmas,’ begged Al.
‘I wanna monkey, too, please,’ James said.
‘Monkeys, eh? Well, I’ll see what I can do,’ the man said. ‘You’d better be on your very best behaviour for the next few days, boys.’
‘We will,’ James promised.
‘Will,’ Al echoed, nodding furiously.
‘Well, I must be going, it’s been a pleasure to meet you Mr Potter, Mrs Potter, boys,’ the man said. He turned on his heels and strolled off down the street.
‘Bye, Santa,’ said James.
‘Bye-bye, Santa,’ Al added.
Harry looked down at his older son, ‘Do you think he really was Santa Claus, James?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ James nodded with certainty.
‘Why?’ asked Ginny.
‘Because he knowed our names,’ James said wisely.
Harry smiled at his wife, but said nothing. Both he and Ginny were still recognised in the street, and anyone who took even a cursory interest in the Wizarding press would know the names of their children. The Prophet was, in fact, speculating wildly on the sex, and name, of the next Potter. The man, who Harry assumed to be the store owner, Nick Phoenix, had certainly used this knowledge to enter into the spirit of Christmas.
‘Interesting man,’ Harry whispered. ‘He certainly had the kids going, didn’t he? Do you think he really is Mr Phoenix?’
‘Of course not, Harry,’ Ginny said loudly. ‘He really was Santa, he simply didn’t want to admit it.’ Harry caught the fleeting wink and downward glance she gave as she spoke, and realised that Al had been listening.
‘Santa!’ Al confirmed happily.
The Big Bite had a long queue of customers at the counter, patiently waiting for take-aways. There were also half-a-dozen tables, two of which were empty.
‘Shall we eat in, rather than get a take-away?’ Harry asked.
‘Yes,’ James said. Ginny shrugged and nodded her agreement.
The plain wooden tables were unencumbered by anything as fancy as a tablecloth. The place was basic, although, in deference to the season, the industrial-sized salt cellar and vinegar bottle on the table each had tinsel tied around them. Harry led his family over to the least greasy looking of the vacant tables. He was only just beaten to the table by a flustered looking woman who hastily cleaned it with a wave of her wand.
They had been spotted as soon as they entered. Harry heard the name “Potter” leaping from lip to lip in a chain of increasing incredulity. He hated eating in Wizarding restaurants for that reason. Several people in the queue looked across at them. Someone, Harry didn’t see who, shouted: ‘Whet’re ye deein’ in here, Potter?’
While Harry was formulating a reply, James took it upon himself to answer. ‘My hungry, want chips,’ he said loudly. The queue laughed.
‘Guid answer wee’un,’ an elderly woman said. ‘Merry Christmas to ye.’
‘And a happy Hogmanay to you,’ replied Harry politely, thankful that he and Ginny been persuaded to attend the Scottish Office Hogmanay Ceilidh a few years earlier.
The woman smiled, and turned back to talk to her companion. The other customers relaxed. The stir the Potter’s presence had begun to create seemed to leak away. Curious newcomers joining the end of the queue for a take away were told, “The wee’un wants chips”, and that was enough.
The witch who had wiped the table had disappeared during the conversation. She returned a short while later, bringing with her a high-chair for Al. Ginny ordered while Harry slid a contented Al into the high chair. It was only a matter of minutes before the witch returned with their order.
‘Wow,’ James stared at his plate. ‘Lots of chips! Wassat?’
‘Fishcake, James,’ Ginny said. ‘You can’t live on chips.’
‘Can,’ said James, with the absolute and unwavering certainty all three-year-olds have.
Harry cut one of the fishcakes in half and passed it to Al. James didn’t object, however, he refused to part with any of his chips, despite the generosity of the portion. Instead, Harry and Ginny provided Al with some from their own plates.
Al’s eyes were drooping by the time they finished their meal. Harry paid the waitress, and was about to lift Al from the high chair when James suddenly closed his eyes and fell face forward onto his plate, fast asleep.
‘I know how he feels. It’s been a busy day,’ said Ginny, yawning. ‘We’ll have to carry him back to the hotel. I’ll take Al; can you carry James, please, Harry?’
‘Of course,’ said Harry as he gently lifted James’s face from the plate, wiped the mushy peas, crushed chips and vinegar from James’s face and carefully lifted his still sleeping son into his arms.
‘My still wamma nunkey, peas,’ James burbled as Harry rested his son’s head on his shoulder and sat him in the crook of his arm.
There was only one other table still occupied when they left the restaurant, and the queue had disappeared. The witch who had served them held the door open for them.
‘Thanks! Are you finished, once they’ve gone?’ Ginny asked her, glancing toward the family who were still eating.
The waitress smiled and shook her head.
‘We’ll ha’ a couple o’ quiet hours noo, up until the pubs shut, and then it’ll be bedlam fer an hour or so. We dinnae close until midnight.’
The Potters made their way down the almost deserted street. The window display was still working, but there were only a couple of families gazing into it. As they passed the store there was a loud wail from the side street.
‘Nooo…’ the voice tailed off into sobs of anguish.
‘Wuzzat?’ James asked, suddenly wide awake.
‘Wha?’ Al added his voice to the enquiry. Harry and Ginny exchanged a worried look in which several questions were silently asked and answered.
It sounds like someone’s in trouble.
Yes, but what about the kids? Will you look after them?
No, we’ll all go. Ginny drew her wand and motioned Harry forward.
Each carrying a now wide-awake child, Harry and Ginny moved cautiously into the side street. They soon found the source of the noise. Slumped at a side door, his head in his hands, sat the man they’d been talking to earlier.
‘Mr Phoenix?’ said Harry. ‘Are you all right?’
‘I’ve been robbed,’ he sobbed. ‘Some vile villain stunned me from behind, I heard the shout of Stupefy, and when I woke, I was like this.’
The man lifted his head from his hands and revealed a shining and perfectly clean-shaven face.
‘My beard,’ he sobbed.
Harry felt James twist in agitation.
‘Summun stole Santa’s beard,’ James wailed. He burst into tears. Al was equally distraught.
‘Don’t worry, boys,’ Ginny said. ‘We’ll soon put this right. She pointed her wand at the man’s face. ‘Hold very still, please, Santa,’ she said.