Arthur had given up on the idea of a family photograph.
Just getting all his children together in the same place at the same time was an accomplishment in itself, but then something would blow up and there would be squabbling, or torrential rain, or a screaming baby.
He spread out all the photos from various weddings and christenings, birthday parties and Christmases, and reached for the scissors. It had come to this; he was resorting to making a collage. Picking up a photograph from years ago he sighed and began to try to cut around Fred's shape while he dodged around, mischievously.
At least this way Fred would be included.
As he cut out the members of his family from the various pictures spread across the living room floor he noticed a pattern forming. He and Molly would always stand at the centre of the massed gathering, Harry, Ginny and their children at his side and Fleur beside Molly, then Hermione, Audrey and Angelina. All the wives lined up alongside Molly, it made sense he supposed, but Harry was beside him, holding Al in his arms, and Ginny held a hand each of James and Lilly. Then there was a furious looking Charlie, when he was in the photo at all, once or twice he had a bruise on his face or rumpled clothes.
Arthur remembered how Charlie always used to become tense during family photographs as the family grew larger. He'd assumed that Charlie just didn't have the patience for little children but now he could see that it was something to do with how everybody was made to stand, how every photographer made everybody stand in a slight variation of the same arrangement.
He put the scissors down and picked up one of the most recent photographs he hadn't yet cut into and scanned it.
Why on earth were Fleur and Bill standing so far apart?
Ron and Hermione too, Ron was nowhere near his wife or his children in any of the photographs.
Charlie was always glaring at the camera as if he hated it and Percy would be mumbling to him out of the corner of his mouth in an attempt to calm him down.
George was always in the process of doing something to ruin the picture and one or more of the little ones sitting in the front row would always be crying.
Ron and Bill were always at the far end of the group, on either side, and a couple of times they'd been cropped out of the picture altogether. Arthur only knew they were there because their heads were peeping over the shoulder of whoever was standing next to them.
Teddy was the only figure that never remained in the same place.
Arthur scanned all the pictures and found Teddy in them. When he went through his 'I wanna be like Harry' phase and his hair was black and eyes green he was standing proudly with his Godfather in the centre of the picture. When his hair was blonde, yellow or white he was placed next to Fleur. If he had a bright and unnatural shade he was put somewhere towards the front of the picture, crouching down with the little ones.
When Arthur found the photo taken when Teddy had been ten years old he finally saw what the problem was; why Teddy always had to be moved, why Ron and Bill were always placed on either end or cut out altogether, why Harry stood at the centre and Charlie looked ready to kill the photographer, why the wives weren't pictured with their husbands apart from Ginny and Molly, and why Arthur's suggesting that they get together for a family photograph was always greeted with moans and groans.
When Teddy was ten years old he was going through another hero-worship phase, this time it was Ron who he wanted to be like. He made himself tall and skinny...and he covered himself with scars.
Bill and Ron, his oldest and youngest boys, both the tallest and both scarred so very badly by the war.
Bill was cast to one side because of his face and Ron to the other because of his arms and neck. They always wore summer clothes because that was the only time to get an outdoor photograph, too many of them to fit inside any one place in any kind of order, and Arthur kicked himself for putting his boys through such a humiliation.
Ron in his short sleeves and Bill with his ravaged face bathed in bright sunlight. Teddy at Ron's side, just as scarred as he was and with Weasley red hair, unless he looked like Harry and could be displayed proudly alongside the real one. The famous one.
Every photograph wasn't about his family, it was about the photographer arranging a crowd of people around the famous Harry Potter.
Charlie's rumpled clothes and black eye...obviously from the punch-up with the photographer who was treating two war heroes as if they were something to be ashamed of. Percy was always strained and weary, trying to calm his aggressive brother's nerves. George ruined the photo or made a rude gesture so it couldn't be sold to the Prophet or displayed in the photographer's portfolio.
All the wives, all the beautiful women who were now a part of his family and mothers to his grandchildren, they were all standing together to pretty up the picture and reduce the freckled faces and red hair from ruining the wonderful composure of Harry's shot.
He wondered if Harry knew.
He guessed not. None of the boys would want him to know.
He wondered if Ron and Bill had worked it out from the first picture or over time. He wondered if they thought he'd noticed how they were being treated and didn't care enough to stop going on about getting a better photograph taken because the last one was so awful.
Arthur felt sickened and gathered all the photographs together again, stuffed them into the box he'd pulled them out of, and put it away in the attic.
He'd never mention getting a family photograph again.
It was several weeks later when Arthur was taking a nap in his squidgey armchair in the living room, on a stifling Sunday afternoon, when four loud snaps jolted him awake. As he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and blinked Ron, Harry, Charlie and George into focus there were two more cracks and Bill and Ginny Apparated before him, staggering into the group crowded on top of the living room table.
"What are you all doing up there?" Ginny asked them.
"We all picture the same spot, apparently," George shrugged.
Ron jumped off the table before he fell and flung himself at his father, grabbing his arms and trying to pull him up out of his chair.
"Something brilliant's happened, dad, some batty old Squib with a chalet on the beach bought too much of George's repellent powder-"
"About a dozen boxes too much!" George snorted, just as Percy appeared in his father's lap and made Ron scream like a girl and fall over backwards.
Ron knocked the table and sent Harry, George and Charlie flying while Ginny and Bill doubled over with laughter. Molly, alerted by the kafuffle, marched into the living room as she dried her hands on a tea towel and froze in astonishment.
"Percy! What on earth are you doing? He's far too old for that!"
George howled with laughter and clutched his sides with both arms. Ginny helped up her husband, who was wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, and Bill ignored Charlie's arm waving up at him for leverage and finished off Ron's explanation.
"Basically, the nearest beach is clear for miles, no Muggle's anywhere, not for a good five hours. I was supposed to grab George and resolve the issue but I figured..." Bill shrugged and grinned.
"He figured, how often can a twenty-five or so-strong magical family all go to the seaside together on a Sunday afternoon?"
"Get ya cozzie on Mum!" Ron beamed at her from the floor.
"And that great big hat you took to Egypt." George added.
"Sun blocking spells, you'll all fry!" Molly gasped before whacking all of her children on the head with her wand and coating them with a sun filtering spell.
"Ow!" Charlie exclaimed, rubbing the top of his head.
Bill sniggered down at him.
"You're so tough," he stooped and offered his hand at long last and hauled him up to his feet.
Molly paused before Harry before hitting him with her wand as well.
"You look pale dear, just to be on the safe side."
"There's gonna be a picnic and cold cider," Charlie said to his Dad before turning to charm his mother, "and lots of grandchildren who need hitting on the head!"
Molly slapped at Charlie's solid arm while Bill chuckled and helped Percy usher their mother away from the kitchen where she was sure she must have something they had forgotten.
The beach was perfect, it was all theirs and they were all there - all who could have been. Rose and Al were digging a hole as if it was the most important project of their lives. George swam through a chunk of seaweed and then ran out of the water like a big green monster, making his little boy Fred and his cousin James run away, screaming with laughter. Teddy was swimming in the sea with Victoire while Percy hovered, fretfully, around his girls. Molly and Lucy bobbed around like little giggling corks due to the number of floatation charms their father had placed on the two of them.
Dominique was playing with Roxanne, helping her to dig a moat around her sand Hogwarts castle. Hugo ran backwards, stretching to grab the Frisbee Louis had thrown over his head and Charlie grabbed him and swung him away from the castle before he trampled it. The girls clapped and cheered their uncle and Hugo panted that he was sorry and rushed off to retrieve the Frisbee.
Charlie turned to return to Bill and Fleur, both were giggling at him as he rubbed his back.
"Getting old eh?" Bill grinned.
"Always younger than you, William!" Charlie said with sarcasm.
"Yeah but I'm ageing gracefully, you're falling apart." Bill smirked before draining his bottle of cider.
Charlie lifted the empty bottle from Bill's hand and handed it, politely, to Fleur. Fleur took the bottle and sighed with resignation as Charlie tackled Bill onto the sand and began wrestling him.
"'Ere we go again."
The boys all ran out of the sea to watch while the girls squealed and fretted.
"Gentlemen," Ginny sighed, "can we please act our age, there are actual children present."
Bill and Charlie looked from their sister, to each other, and then back again. Ginny's eyes widened and she turned to run but they both pulled her down onto the sand with them and began tickling her.
"See, this is why I stay well out of it?" Angelina said as she sat in the shade of the parasol with a fruity drink served inside a whole pineapple, a family recipe that she'd been making for everyone.
Audrey lifted her sunglasses and nodded, before drinking her pineapple dry.
"I hope Percy doesn't wear himself out with the girls today, I'm really in the mood for some attention once they've gone to bed."
Angelina waggled her eyebrows.
"That's the drink talking. It's why I've been forbidden to let Ginny have more than one. Harry said they have their hands full with three kids already."
"But I don't want a third!" Audrey exclaimed, sitting up in her deckchair.
"You don't have to worry. It's just those over-fertile redheads you've got to watch."
"What about Charlie?" Hermione asked as she bent over and reached into the cooling charmed area beside them and pulled out a bottle of orange juice.
Angelina leaned over Audrey and whispered so only the three of them could hear.
"I think he's been fixed!"
The three women burst out laughing and Ginny and Bill pinned Charlie down and ordered him to surrender.
"You only won because you had a girl fighting on your side!" Charlie yelled.
"Don't call me a girl!" Ginny said, putting Charlie into a headlock.
"I was talking about Bill!" Charlie wheezed through the choke-hold.
Molly was attempting to intervene with Harry and Ron's attempts to cook some fish on the grill but they were having none of it and took turns turning the fish and turning Molly away.
"Well if we all get food poisoning on your heads be it!" She huffed.
"She makes it sound as if we're deliberately trying to get this wrong!" Ron huffed.
Harry shrugged as he made his way back to the magic-made grill.
"To be fair, the only reason we're the ones doing this is because everybody else has already been banned for diarrhoetic crimes to food."
Ron laughed before suddenly remembering and shuddering.
"I think my stomach curdled remembering Hermione's muscles abomination."
"Which is why," Hermione called out from beneath the parasol, "you always have to cook."
Harry sniggered and Ron gave a tut.
"She won't even peel spuds, it's not fair, how can you ruin a potato with nothing but an enchanted peeler?"
George ran towards them, dripping wet, and held out a small fish.
"Got another one!"
Ron and Harry leaned over his hands and looked at it.
"It's dead," Ron said eventually.
"Well of course it's dead!" George huffed, "I'm hardly gonna suggest you throw a live fish on the grill so it can scream at me and scare the children."
"I don't think fish scream," Harry sniggered.
"That's because you've never put a live one in the fire," George said knowingly, "When've you had a haddock look you in the eye and scream 'Whyyyyyyyyyy?'"
Ron snorted and took the fish.
"Well this one can be yours, seeing as you spared it from becoming Sprat of Arc."
George saluted the small fish and wiped away a make believe tear.
"It died a hero. I'll have it well done."
Arthur was watching all of them, his whole family, and felt warmth inside that rivalled the sunshine. He didn't need a photograph. He just needed more moments like this. He scanned the scene along the beach.
Everybody had come in from the sea now and was sitting in disorganised groups, Molly rubbing her namesake's hair dry with a towel, while Charlie arm wrestled with Teddy and pretended to struggle against the fake bicep the boy had morphed.
Carrying his youngest, Louis, away from the sea, Bill was laughing so hard at something the little one said that all his scars pulled tight over the contours of his face and showed up more than ever. Looking at Charlie again, letting Teddy win and grinning, widely, more relaxed than ever, Arthur decided it suited him better than all those furious expressions he wore in the formal pictures. Percy was leaning over Audrey for a kiss while George stole a sip from Angelina's drink and she squealed at him that he wasn't allowed any more...of anything!
Arthur laughed and Lucy sat in his lap and scrunched up her nose.
"Wos funny, Granddad?"
"All of you!" He kissed her and then blew a raspberry into the side of her neck. She squealed and ran to her sister.
Arthur saw Harry carrying a couple of plates and almost walking into the hole his son had dug with his cousin Rose. Ginny took the plates and pointed out the hole to him before reminding him to be more careful. Harry looked at Al and Rose, expecting him to tell them off, and he winked at them and made a big show of falling into the hole. All the children laughed at silly Uncle Harry, or silly Daddy, and he rested his chin on the side of the hole and marvelled at how far down they'd been able to dig in one afternoon.
"Quick, somebody fill it in!" Hermione called as she walked towards Ron, who was pulling off his t-shirt and throwing it aside, "Woo, he's stripping!"
"Lay off, you," Ron grinned, "it's hotter than the sun over 'ere."
Ron had started to burn, his scars silver against the pinking skin, but he wasn't self conscious about them. He and Bill, unwittingly, were still book-ending the group. But this time it wasn't staged, it was natural, and everybody was happy and comfortable.
"Is he coming back or what?" Ron muttered as he leaned over to see if Harry was climbing out of his hold any time soon. "I've got four plates and two pairs of hands."
"I've got a pair of hands," Hermione said, waving them before her."
"So you have," Ron smiled before turning around and squatting down, "hop on and you can be my serving wench."
Hermione jumped onto her husband's back and then slapped his backside.
"Less of the wench, if you don't mind!"
Ron stood up, made sure Hermione's legs were wrapped tightly around his waist, and then handed her two plates of hot fish.
"Drop these on me and you're going in the sea, just so you know," he warned while picking up his own two plates and then calling out to the crowd, "Watch your backs, two-headed serving octopus on the move!"
"Is that my screaming fish?" George asked as Ron held out the plate to him.
"It is," Ron nodded, "with some tormented vinegar!"
Molly looked over her shoulder at Arthur and waved him over.
"Come of love, come and sit with your two Mollys."
"Yeah!" Little Molly said as she patted some sand smooth for him.
"Righty-ho, here I come."
He joined his ideal picture of the family and found that was the best part of all, because no matter how perfect a photograph...you can never step inside and enjoy the real moment it captures.