When she woke, Ginny was lying on her side facing the edge of the bed. Her legs were curled up under her bump and for once her back wasn’t aching. She shuffled slightly and opened an eye. It was still dark and she couldn’t see the clock.
‘It’s almost eight o’clock,’ Harry whispered.
‘Mmm,’ she acknowledged, wondering how long he’d been awake and watching her.
She felt him move behind her, and knew that he was rolling closer for a morning cuddle. His knees touched her bottom and slid gently down the back of her thighs. He slowly shuffled until his chest pressed against her back. His fingers moved sensitively across her hip and gently up and around her waist until he was holding both her and their, as yet unborn, third child. He kissed the back of her head.
‘How are my girls this morning?’ he asked.
‘Lily’s fine, but I’m still a little worried. What are we going to do, Harry?’ she asked.
‘We aren’t going to make any more rash promises to our kids,’ he whispered with feeling. ‘No more, “we’ll fix Santa’s beard”, no more “we’ll find the bad man who did this”. Not unless we can be absolutely certain that we can keep our promises. We’ve failed to do what we told the boys we’d do, and now they are worried about Christmas. I honestly don’t know what to do about it either, Ginny.’
‘We should never have pretended that Mr Phoenix was really Santa,’ Ginny murmured. ‘But I wish he hadn’t run off after my beard growing spell failed to work. With his help we might have been able to persuade the boys that he wasn’t the actual Santa, that he was simply someone pretending.’
‘He was really upset about losing his beard, and that’s what affected the kids,’ whispered Harry despondently. ‘I couldn’t even find the door he walked through. It was almost as if he vanished! He’s got remarkably good security at his store. I think that all we can do is wait until the boys get up and ask them what they want to do. Christmas should be happy and magical for them, Ginny, like Christmas at Hogwarts, and at the Burrow, was for me.’
‘We might find out something in Side Way, Harry,’ Ginny replied, but she didn’t sound hopeful. ‘Do you think that Lavender will…’
‘Lavender’s not supposed to be at work. It’s her day off today, and she was planning to go to Diagon Alley with Mark,’ said Harry. ‘I know that Mark promised to help, but this isn’t an Auror operation, Ginny. Lavender’s a good investigator, but when she’s off duty, she’s off duty. I don’t suppose that she will do anything, at least not until she’s finished her Christmas shopping.’
‘We could try to speak to Mr Phoenix.’
‘If he’ll see us,’ said Harry.
‘You’re Harry Potter, Harry, and he recognised you! Of course he’ll see you,’ said Ginny. Suddenly uncomfortable, she straightened her legs. ‘But it’s a ridiculous story, what possible use is a stolen beard?’ she asked as Harry moved to accommodate her. She shuffled onto her back, and, after a struggle, rolled to face Harry. They lay belly to belly and looked into each other’s faces in the gloomy half-light.
‘You could use it for a Polyjuice potion,’ Harry said. ‘Apart from that, as Mark said, you could make a false beard with it, but why? And why couldn’t we grow it back?’
‘I was thinking about that when I got up for the loo in the middle of the night. I think I know,’ said Ginny. ‘Remember that time George tried to make your beard grow, just before the Wizengamot meeting. He hit you square in the face with that jinx, but nothing happened.’
‘Because when I shave with my magical razor, I stay shaved,’ said Harry, understanding. ‘You’re right, Ginny. But all that proves is that whoever is doing this is using a magical razor. We’re no closer to knowing why.’
‘True…’ Ginny said no more. They both fell silent and smiled at each other, knowing that their discussions were over.
It was no more than a scuffle and a whisper, but it was enough. Their sons were awake. Harry began to move, to sit up, but Ginny put a hand on his shoulder, preventing him from leaving her.
They lay still and silent, listening to the noises coming from the adjacent bedroom. Harry’s breath was warm on Ginny’s cheek and she leaned over to kiss his nose. In the other room, James was whispering something, but Ginny could not make out the words. There was a loud thump. For a fraction of a second, Ginny was worried, but no cry followed. It was, she realised, simply James getting out of bed by bouncing on it and jumping onto the floor.
‘Me do ’at,’ said Al loudly. There was an equally loud thump followed by high pitched laughter.
The loud noises were followed by faint footsteps on the thick carpet.
‘It’s dis door, Al,’ said James.
Ginny heard the door handle move and saw Harry lift his head to look past her, to the door leading to the room their sons had shared. The moment they heard the door open Ginny and Harry both spoke.
‘Good morning, boys,’ said Ginny.
‘Hello, guys,’ was Harry’s greeting.
‘Eh, oh,’ said Al.
‘Morning MummyanDaddy,’ said James,
He ran to the bottom of the bed, pulled up the covers, and began to wriggle into the bed from the bottom, aiming, as he always did, to crawl up between them. Al, as usual, followed his brother.
Ginny felt Harry release her and roll away. She shuffled onto her back and waited as she felt James creep up past her waist.
‘Hello, Lily,’ said James as his head brushed his mother’s belly. ‘Boo!’ he announced loudly, as his head finally popped out between them.
‘Hello James, how did you get there?’ Harry asked as he kissed James’s sleep tousled hair.
‘Crawled, of course,’ James explained seriously.
Al, his route blocked by his brother, chose instead to climb up his father.
‘Oof,’ Harry groaned as a surprisingly sharp knee caught him under the ribs moments before Al, too arrived at the top of the bed.
‘Morning, Al,’ said Harry.
‘Eh, oh, Daddy ’n Mummy,’ said Al.
‘Well, boys, what do you want to do today?’ Ginny asked.
‘Get Santa’s beard back,’ said James firmly.
‘Es,’ Al agreed.
Harry and Ginny exchanged a concerned glance.
Over their breakfast in the hotel restaurant, Harry and Ginny tried to persuade their sons to forget about the missing beard. They were unsuccessful, and when it became obvious that their attempts were upsetting Al they made their plans accordingly.
‘We will go to the big store and speak to the owner. Perhaps he will know something,’ Harry suggested to his still subdued sons. ‘Santa vanished outside his store, remember, and even if we find Santa’s beard, we don’t know how to find him.’
‘Easy,’ said James. ‘You write a letter to him, address it to a norf pole, frow it inna fire, an ‘e gets it like magic.’
Ginny exchanged a worried glance with her husband; it was obvious that James was not going to forget the events of the previous evening, and neither was Al. The problem wasn’t going to go away. She fervently hoped that Mr Phoenix would see them and that he’d admit that he wasn’t the real Santa Claus.
Side Way was busier than ever. The streets were crowded with happily smiling families enjoying the Christmas experience. Ginny looked down at her sons, they both looked very serious. As they walked along the bustling street, James pulled his mother to a halt outside the department store window.
‘Look!’ he pointed proudly. ‘Santa! My found him.’
Ginny looked into the window. Behind the placard reading “Santa’s Busiest Day, courtesy of N J Phoenix, Dept. Store” was a large photograph. In it the man they’d met the previous evening was waving cheerfully. He was sitting in a large chair covered in white fur, and behind him a sign read “Phoenix’s Famous Santa’s Grotto”. Ginny smiled in relief.
‘Well done James,’ Harry said.
‘Yes, clever boy,’ Ginny added. ‘You know what this means, don’t you?’
James shook his head. Ginny looked at Harry for confirmation before speaking. His eyes told her yes; it was best to prepare the boys now.
‘The man we met yesterday wasn’t the real Santa Claus,’ she began. ‘That photograph shows that he works here. Lots of shops and stores have people who dress up like Santa, and ask children what they want for Christmas. The man we met was just pretending to be Santa.’