AN: Many thanks to Imogen for beta reading this and for forcing me to write it

AN: Many thanks to Imogen for beta reading this and for forcing me to write it!  If you like H/G stuff, I suggest you read her stuff!  And thanks to GP for encouraging me…I wish I would have told you about this over pancakes!  Alright…let the angst begin!

With or Without You

Chapter One

They always came to the park on Saturday.  It was tradition.  There were dozens of kids for Jimmy to play with, and it gave Gwen time to herself…almost.  She would lose herself in a book only to be drawn back to earth by Michael. He would eventually show up.  This was her routine.

"Mommy look!"  Jimmy's voice drew her focus and she glanced over at him, hanging upside down from the monkey bars, his legs draped over the top.  He swung slightly back and forth with an enthusiastic grin on his face.

"Be careful, dear!"  She sounded like her mother.  How did that happen?  How many times had she, herself, played like that?  And how many times had her mother warned her to be careful?  And how long had it been since she had even spoken to her mother? 

She watched her son flip over and drop to the ground.  He scampered off with some of the other children to the swings, brushing his messy hair out of his eyes.  How much he looked like his father.  He was growing to look more like him everyday, and it pained Gwen to notice it. 

She missed him so much it hurt, but it had been so long since she had seen him.  She didn't even know if he was still alive.  She could only hope that one day they could be together again.  She glanced down at the ring on her right hand with longing.  For ten years she had worn that ring, even after he had asked her to take it off. It's better that no one knows, he had said.  As if there was any doubt in anyone's mind as to the nature of their relationship.  But she couldn't take off the ring completely…she just moved it to the other hand.  It was the only thing she allowed herself to keep of his; the only reminder that she had of his love for her…except for Jimmy.

Jimmy was a constant reminder, yes that was certain. 

She looked back down at her book and pretended to read. Letting out a sigh of frustration, she forced herself to read the first paragraph…again!  She needed to read this book.  School would be starting up next week and she wanted to use some new material this year.  The book had been recommended by several publishing companies and seemed to be the book for kids these days.  It's description on the back cover was interesting, and Gwen didn't doubt that she would enjoy reading it, but some days she just couldn't get her mind to focus.  And today was one of those days.

"Mind if I join you?"

Michael had arrived with Colin.  Gwen shifted on the bench as he took a seat beside her.  They had met at school two years ago when both their boys started Kindergarten.  Michael's wife had passed away suddenly when Colin was only a baby leaving him to raise his son alone.  From what Gwen had observed from their occasional visits, he was an excellent father.  Gwen had even allowed Jimmy to go over to Colin's house a few times; something she didn't like doing.  It scared her to have Jimmy where she couldn't get to him.

"What are you reading today, Ms. Williams?" He had such a suave air about him, but he wasn't cocky.  At first, Gwen had been a bit put out by him, thinking he only wanted what these other American men seemed to want.  But as she got to know him, she saw that he genuinely liked being around her.  And what worried her even more was that she liked being around him.

"Just a book for school."  She closed the book and returned it to her bag.  "I haven't got past the first page, though."

"Must be a good read!" he joked.  "Want one?"  He held out a bag of biscuits…Colin's favorites she noted.  One thing parents always seem to have: snacks!  She took one and began to nibble.

"So, school starts next week?" 

She nodded, her mouth full of crumbs.

"I was thinking, if you don't think you'll be too busy with classes, would you and Jimmy like to come over for dinner after the first day?"

Was she actually blushing?  "I'd be delighted, thank you."  Why was he smiling like that at her?

There had been for some time now an unspoken understanding between them.  They were friends…that's all.  She had said it to just about anyone who had ever asked.  Michael was a catch: steady job, good looking, well mannered, a great father…everything a woman would want in a man.  And he was most certainly smitten with Gwen.  But she insisted that they were just friends, even when he would tempt her to feel otherwise.

"And you know Gwen," he said leaning in towards her slightly, "maybe we could even go out once without the kids."

She looked into his eyes sharply.   "No, I won't leave Jimmy alone."  She never did, except in a place she knew she could get to him quickly.  That's why she became a teacher.  The school had day care for toddlers for when he was little, and then as he grew, he would still be in the same building while she was teaching.  The two times he had gone over to Colin's house without her had left her panic stricken.  But she trusted Michael, and that said something.

"One of these days you're going to have to be parted from him." Michael said smiling.  It wasn't meant as a jab, but that was how Gwen took it.  She didn't say anything back, but she didn't look at him either.  "Gwen…come on…"

"Michael, you don't understand."

"Then maybe you should tell me?"

Her heart jumped at the honesty in his voice and the sincerity she saw in his eyes.  "I can't tell you…I'm sorry, but…"

He sat back on the bench and crossed his arms.  "Don't bother explaining, Gwen.  I know what this is about."

"You do?"

"Of course.  You don't think it took me a long time to get over loosing Emily?"  His eyes wondered over to Colin and Jimmy now playing tag.

Gwen wanted to say something…to explain that it wasn't really the same thing, but he went on before she had a chance.  "Look, I loved Emily with all of my heart, and I would give anything to have her back.  But I can't change that.  Nor should I torture myself into being unhappy for the rest of my life.  I decided a long time ago to go on living.  Now you have to do the same."

She shook her head at him, ready to try and explain the situation, but she couldn't figure out how to word it without revealing too much.  She truly trusted Michael, and didn't want to loose him as a friend.  But how could she ever explain something like this?

Watching her, Michael said, "You know what really confuses me about you?"  This caught her by surprise.  "You never talk about him.  Jimmy never talks about him.  There are no pictures of him in your house!  I've never even heard you say his name!  If this guy was so important to you, Gwen…where did he go?"

She had asked herself that very question every day for the last eight years.  Where had he gone…she didn't know?  That was part of the problem.  "I don't know." She admitted softly.

"Huh?  What do you mean you don't know?"  Now Michael was thoroughly confused.

"I don't know where he is.  And that's the truth."  She hung her head, looking at her lap.

Michael turned to sit sideways so he could look at her better.  "Wait a minute.  What do you mean you don't know?  I thought he was…well…dead?"

Slowly Gwen shook her head no.  "At least…I hope he's not." 

"Gwen?  I…I…"  He obviously was at a loss for words.

"Do you think less of me now?"

"I have always been immensely impressed with you.  But now…that I know he left you…"

Suddenly becoming defensive, Gwen said, "Oh, no.  It isn't what you think.  It wasn't like that at all."

"Well then what was it like?"

She paused and thought about what exactly she could and couldn't say to him.  "Look, all you need to know is that Jimmy's father is a good, decent man, who only ever wanted to protect me."

They sat in silence for a time, neither knowing just how to proceed.  Finally, Michael spoke up, looking off at Jimmy playing in the distance.  "Does he even know how much you love him?"

Smiling at her son, Gwen said, "Of course he does.  I tell him every day!"

"No," said Michael, "I mean Jimmy's father.  Does he know how much you love him?"

Gwen looked up at him stunned.  That must have been hard to say.  Before she could comment Michael added, "He's a fool for leaving you.  You are beautiful, intelligent, a devoted mother.  And if two years of chasing you has taught me anything, it's that your are hopelessly in love with a man who isn't here."

He turned away, finished with the conversation, then stood up and walked over to his son, now hanging from the monkey bars.  He picked him up and began to play with him as a father should – tossing him around, tickling him, flying him like an airplane.  Jimmy sat watching.

Her heart was about to break.  Why shouldn't she date Michael?  Why shouldn't she get on with her life?  Why shouldn't she let this wonderful man into her life and give Jimmy the father he always wanted?

Because Jimmy had a father…a wonderful father.  Because Gwen loved him so much she couldn't bear to be with another man.  Because she couldn't give up the hope that one day Harry would find her. 

Harry…

She brushed the name aside.  Thinking it was still painful.  She never allowed herself to think his name…or about Hogwarts…or about the life she could have had….

When she was known as Ginny.