I was a classic fool if I thought this would be any easier… I don't suppose I ever really thought so, because in the end, it's like losing a father for a second time.

As much as I hate that I never knew my own dad, and as much as it hurts now, I suppose I'm lucky to have had more than one person in my life to help fill that void. The first was Harry, of course. He was always so good to me; I don't know what I did to deserve his love and devotion.

But Ron was there for so much of it, too. Not my godfather, no, but maybe that made it more special… There was no obligation, not really. Yet somehow, he—and Hermione—never questioned their place by Harry's side, and the family… and by me.

Plus, Ron actually grew up with a father. Harry can't help that absence any more than I can, but I do think that means that even if he didn't realize it, sometimes Ron knew a little better what to do for me. I remember when I first left for Hogwarts, Harry was a complete mess. I suppose I was the guinea pig, because he was much more together when his children left for school. But that day, Harry was fussing about almost as much as my Grandmother, or as much as Molly did whenever one of her grandchildren went off to Hogwarts. Ginny and Hermione couldn't stop sniffling. But Ron pulled me aside just before I got on the train.

Thinking back, I know that he was just as nervous to be sending me off as the others, but his outward calm and big goofy smile were much more encouraging. With a sly grin, he handed me a packet of products from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes and told me to use them wisely. I thanked him but kept my head down. I was so anxious, in every sense of the word. Ron had bent a bit closer to my height then and whispered conspiratorially that he knew how I felt. He told me not to put too much stock into the stories George had been telling me, and not to fret about making friends. Arthur hadn't been on Platform 9 ¾ when Ron had left for his first year, I learned. But he'd woken Ron early that morning before work. Ron told me he wished he'd listened to his father then, so he hoped I would do him one better. Ron said I wasn't to let whatever expectations I thought everyone had of me to get into my head—that it wasn't about living up to names or accomplishments. I know now that both he and Harry knew something of that feeling, but I think Ron recognized—like Arthur before him—that sometimes you need to be reminded that being your own person was better than trying to live up to whatever a slew of brothers or famous parents had done. With another grin, he ruffled my hair and said that as long as I was happy, they were happy. I think I surprised him when I reached out to hug him tightly, but he didn't laugh or pat my back awkwardly. After a second's hesitation, he just hugged me back.

That was the thing about Ron—I don't think he ever expected to do anything right. I've heard most of the stories, of course. Especially when he was younger, I've gathered he wasn't the most sensitive bloke. But in talking to Harry and Hermione over the years, I noticed something. Even then, even when they were just kids, there was something about Ron that they needed. It's the same thing that our whole family needs now. He might not look after everyone in the same way that my father-in-law always did, but Ron had the biggest heart of anyone I know. From the old stories, especially, I gather that sometimes it got him into trouble… when he didn't know quite how to handle what he was feeling or what those he cared about were going through when their well-being affected him so much.

But by the time I knew him—knew him to remember him, at least—I just knew that heart… Driven by fierce loyalty or protectiveness, I don't know, but I always felt better knowing that he was watching out for me.

It's the same heart that I see in his children, no matter how much they might be breaking now. With the best of both Ron and Hermione, it's no wonder that Rose and Hugo turned out to be the caregivers of the family.

But even they couldn't take care of him in these past few months. In so many ways, he kept us going after Harry died—when he and Hermione were the only ones left. But I think it's really a testament to Hermione that Ron couldn't do that anymore once she was gone. They lasted three years after their best friend passed. After Hermione died, Ron could only keep going for three months.

I know we all held on so desperately… he was the last link to all of our parents, after all. And to some of us, he either was a father, or very close to it. I can't help but think that it was a little selfish, though. I know he wanted to be here for us, in some way, but it was slowly killing him to be without Hermione, without Harry, without his family. Who are we to place that burden on him?

But I know he understood… he seemed so torn himself. He was lost without her, without them, but I could tell he didn't want to abandon us.

In the end, though, he lived an exceedingly long life, and we have to let him go. This family has been truly blessed, after all of its sacrifices, to see so many grow to old age and so many new lives be born into our midst. I know he wouldn't have wanted to live longer than any of his children, his nieces or nephews. Me. But it's still hard to believe he's not here.

These last few months, though, part of him was already gone. He tried to fill the absence of a beloved wife and the many losses of family and friends with this sort of incessant making of the rounds. Every day, it seemed, we were visiting him or he was visiting us. Today it might be Victoire and I. Tomorrow would be all of Harry and Ginny's children, the next George's, Percy's, my brother and sister-in-law, and so on… but I know he spent a little time every morning and every night in that graveyard.

I went with him, once, on one of those trips… We walked slowly before all of the cold stones. I felt as though Ron were giving them each a small greeting as he ran his hand over the marble. That night, we didn't come to a stop until we reached the last grave. Kneeling down, Ron fixed his eyes on Harry's name.

"You know mate, I'm starting to wonder if it was our lot to watch them go, and then wait for our turn…" he'd said softly, turning his head to Hermione's marker, the same marker that now bears his name.

I didn't say anything, but stood quietly, a giant lump in my throat. It didn't seem fair that they had to wither away. I had hated to watch Harry go through that, and now Ron… it was too much.

"But you know," Ron continued, as if in answer to my thoughts, "I wouldn't have it any other way… I could never watch her suffer, least of all on my account."

I bit my lip then, knowing it was true. Yet I had no idea what to say, what words of comfort to offer. What comfort could there be? Finally, I settled on the truth.

"The last time I talked to Harry, he asked me to make sure you and Hermione would be alright…" I said, barely above a whisper.

Ron stood and turned to me, eyes full of concern. "You know he wouldn't have said that to just anyone, Teddy…" he said with a small smile in remembrance of his friend. "And I hope you know you did a good job," he added sincerely.

"It doesn't always feel like it…" I responded morosely.

"Don't be ridiculous, Ted" Ron replied, in a very good imitation of his wife. I tried to smile, but I couldn't. Looking up, I found Ron couldn't either. "Honestly, Teddy, you've done brilliantly…" he finally said, swallowing hard. "And I wouldn't entrust my family to anyone but you."

I couldn't speak after that, but I pulled him to me, much as I had just before my first journey to Hogwarts. No matter how old I get, it always feels right to be hugged like that—by someone who loves you the way a parent does. I miss it now… I wish I could have that particular hug just one more time…

When I received the owl from Rose and Hugo on that day, the day I lost those hugs, I fell into our careworn kitchen chairs with a hand to my mouth. Two simple words… It's Dad… and I was done for.

Victoire found me a few moments later, and picking up the short note, her own eyes filled with tears. We held each other close before breaking apart and readying to go, as if by mutual consent. Sending a quick note to our children, I kept trying to reason with myself that it was better this way. That he deserved to be with his wife again, with his best friend, his family… That we couldn't keep him here for our sake… But I needed reassurance… the reassurance that Harry had given to me after my Grandmother passed, or that he and Ron and Hermione had given me on Ginny's death. That reassurance that Ron and Hermione filled me with when Harry was gone, or that Ron still somehow managed to bestow on us when Hermione died… Old though I may be, sometimes you still need to be told that everything will be alright, in the end.

When Victoire and I reached Ron and Hermione's house, I was greeted by the only faces I wanted desperately to both see and to avoid. All of the spouses, it seemed, had taken it upon themselves to go to their children and grandchildren, in some cases. I felt a brief pang that neither Victoire nor I would be there in that moment for our own kids, but I knew that they would be taken care of. Besides, looking around at Victoire's siblings and cousins, I also knew that this was where I needed to be.

Lily had met us at the door, and looking in her eyes—and those of her brothers behind her—I saw a mirror of my own feelings. I know this is as hard for them as it is for me… But taking up the banner won't be easy for any of us, not when we've been shielded for so long. Moving on through the house, the tearstained faces of Dominique and Louis, Molly and Lucy, Fred and Roxanne, all fell like rocks into my stomach. But it wasn't until we'd all gathered in the kitchen and I saw Rose and Hugo that my I felt my heart break. Hugo was running a shaking hand over the recipe book, open to the page Ron had planned to use for family dinner that night—a tradition he'd graciously taken up after his mother passed away. Rose was clutching her brother's free hand in hers, while holding an old letter in the other, staring unseeing ahead of her.

The silence was unbearable. These times were the only occasions when the Weasleys fell silent—and it only made it worse.

Taking a steadying breath, I had made my way to Rose and Hugo's side, pulling them both into a hug. "I'm so sorry," I whispered, feeling completely inadequate.

"We were lucky to have him as long as we did," Hugo said shakily. "Him and Mum…" A chorus of saddened nods around the kitchen met his words.

"We all were," Rose added softly with a deft squeeze of my hand, knowing how I'd felt about her father. I will always feel fortunate that neither she and Hugo, nor James, Albus and Lily, resented my connection with their parents. Looking around the kitchen once more, I knew I'd always feel grateful to this family for taking me in long before I'd ever married Victoire. But in that moment, it just hurt even more…

"What's that in your hand, Rosie?" Al said at last.

"Oh," Rose said softly, eyes filling with fresh tears, "it was in Dad's hand when we—when we…" she broke off, unable to finish.

"What does it say?" I asked gently after a pause.

"I don't know," Rose replied, "I couldn't… I couldn't bring myself to read it." She glanced at Hugo, who nodded slightly. "Would you…?" she asked plaintively, turning back to me and holding out the small piece of paper. All I could do was nod when I looked into her eyes—the same eyes her father had—as I took the letter from her.

I unfolded the old parchment carefully, scanning it quickly. Though my eyes were filling rapidly, I couldn't help but smile as I felt a small weight lift off of my heart.

"What is it?" James asked after a moment.

"It looks like a letter Hermione wrote to Ron when he was still an Auror… and his response back to her is at the bottom…" I said, trying to keep my tears at bay.

"Read it to us," Victoire said softly from my side, taking my hand.

"Alright," I began, adjusting the letter in my hand. "Dear Ron," I recounted, clearing my throat. "Dear Ron, when are you coming home? I know it hasn't been so long in the scheme of things, but I miss you so much… We all miss you. Harry's kicking himself that he couldn't be on this mission with you. Am I allowed to say I'm glad you won't be doing this job much longer? Well, I guess I said it… I know it's been hard for you to give it up, but it's just not the same here without you. I need your arms around me again… Come back to me soon. You have all of my love, Hermione."

"Oh, Mum…" Rose sighed, leaning on her brother and cousin as I wiped my eyes. I looked around the small room and saw that everyone—brothers, sisters, cousins—they were all finding comfort in each other. It filled me with hope, that this family was still so strong, together. But I wanted them to have the comfort of this unlikely letter, too—the comfort I could feel spreading over me then and even now—the very reassurance, however small, that I had been craving.

"Then it looks as though Ron just wrote back on the same parchment," I continued, with a last encouraging glance at my family... "Dear Hermione, I miss you too—more than you know. Tell Harry and everyone else not to worry, though, I'll be home soon. And yes, you're allowed to say you're glad about the end of this… Part of me still feels like I should stay, help… But this isn't my place. I think I've done all that I can, and it's time to move on. They don't need me anymore… not really. But I do need you—and your arms—every day. Every day, Hermione. I promise, I'm coming home soon. Love, Ron."

Author's Note: My apologies to those of you reading Seconds, I fully intend to get back to it soon, but I've been frightfully busy and I couldn't get this little story out of my head. But hey, any new readers who want to catch up with that one (and for all the old ones, of course)—I promise not to make you wait too much longer for an update.

At any rate, I hope everyone enjoyed this. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read the other stories in this series, First and Last and Sleeping Without Her, which deal with the passing of Harry and Hermione, respectively, and cover some of the events I allude to here. I may still do Ginny as a prequel of sorts, we'll see…

And as always, I appreciate your taking the time to read this, and hope you'll leave a review!