Disclaimer: All characters, settings and concepts you recognise as part of the world of Harry Potter belong to JK Rowling. I just like to play with her ideas

Note: Before you say Allie is AU, I will point you to the line in Half Blood Prince, page 307 (British/Australian addition) where George mentions "a very pretty girl in the paper shop..."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The pain passes, but the beauty remains
– Pierre Auguste Renoir

The mirror in the corner of their bedroom had stood covered for months, thrown into darkness by the curtains that seemed to have hung over the window for an age. Drawing a deep breath, George tugged at the smooth white fabric – a sheet from Fred's empty bed – and watched it fall, material pooling around his feet.

George watched his reflection apprehensively. Without the ear, his face seemed strangely lopsided – and yet, because of its absence, he could look at himself. Fred had had two ears; he only had one; and that significant detail became the difference between being able to cope and not cope.
Until he shifted his head, and in the blink of an eye, the reflection transformed to become that of his twin, staring out at him. George gulped, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. Fred mimicked him, making him smile slightly. They met each other's eyes steadily.

"I miss you."

The words escaped George's lips before he had even thought them through, and yet, in an instant they, and his brother's steady gaze, seemed to be enough. A little of the heaviness lifted from his heart.

"I don't really know how to live without you. I don't know how to be George without a Fred. It's hard – too hard. But I need to, you know?"

Fred blinked and shrugged slowly.

"I'm not going to forget you. You'll always be here. But I need to start living again."

"Who are you talking to?"

Charlie stood in the doorway, muscular arms crossed across his chest, wearing a skeptical expression. George read his older brother's worry and rolled his eyes. Charlie looked taken aback.

It was clear to him, then, that his family obviously thought he was losing it. His father and Bill, maybe not, but the hidden secret behind Charlie, Percy and Ron's glances suddenly became clear, and Ginny's concern, which she didn't even bother to hide, was suddenly thrown into perspective.

"I'm not cracking up, you know." His voice was surprisingly steady and reassured.

Charlie nodded slowly. "All right," he agreed, as though not quite convinced.

George turned back to the mirror. Fred had vanished, and in his place, once more, stood George's own reflection. He absently tucked a stray strand of hair over the hole where his ear had once been.

"A-actually, I was just contemplating a new haircut."

Charlie, if possible, looked even more surprised. "Good for you, George," he said suddenly, nodding encouragingly.

George glanced, once again, at the mirror. His reflection stared back, impassive. Then, only for a second, the eyes of his brother met his, and George nodded.

"Yes. Good for me."

- - -

George selected a gnome, frowning.

"I think I might go in to the shop, tomorrow," he said lightly, as it squirmed and growled in his hands.

Four pairs of eyes stared at him, startled. Ron and Harry were both helping in the annual de-gnoming, and Hermione and Ginny were lazing on the lawn watching them.

Only moments ago, a particularly nasty gnome had attached itself to one of Ron's fingers, and he had thrown it off, swearing, while Hermione and Ginny laughed.
"It's not a blood spectator sport," he'd growled, which had only seemed to make the girls' laughs louder.

Now, Ron turned to him, concerned. George met their surprise and shrugged. Harry immediately shrugged in response, while the girls watched on, Ginny puzzled and Hermione bighting her lip.

"Are you sure?" Ron asked softly.

George nodded, flinging the gnome around and sending it soaring over the hedge. "I think it's time."

Harry's head was lost in a mound of bushes, but Ron met his eyes.

"If – if you'd like," he offered hesitantly, "I c-could go with you?"

George smiled, smacking his little brother on the back, right between the shoulder blades.

"Yeah," he accepted. "That'd be good."

- - -

The shop was dark – Arthur had boarded up the windows at least six months ago, and no one had been inside since. Dust lay in a thick blanket over the shelf-tops. Ron sneezed beside him, before dusting his hands.

"Right – first thing's first, right? Let's get some light in here."

The boys spent the morning giving the shop a thorough spring clean – an undertaking that proved drastically more difficult than either George or Ron had expected. Their fortunes were improved, however, when Hermione stopped by with one of their mother's household cleaning books.

"Oh!" Her exclamation rung through the shop, and Ron was beside her in an instant, peering into the little cage she stood beside sadly.

"George, the pygmy puffs are dead!" Ron yelled, making Hermione wince. Tact had never been one of Ron's strong points.

However…. "Oh!" she exclaimed again, bending down and gingerly reaching into the cage. Her hand withdrew with a tiny ball of fluff, which quivered feebly. "Not all," she corrected softly, patting the pygmy puff gently as George joined them.

While the boys finished, Hermione took the cage over to the magical menagerie, where it transpired that quite a few of the little creatures had survived, if only just.

That evening, they had a quiet funeral in the corner of the garden for the little animals who hadn't been so lucky.

A week later, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes reopened, much to the delight of Diagon Alley shoppers who once again flooded the shop, noting with pleasure that nothing seemed changed. There was one new addition, however. On the wall above the counter, the night before the Grand Re-opening, the Weasley family, Harry and Hermione had gathered – Fleur with a squalling baby in her arms – to unveil a memorial to their missing brother. The portrait of Fred Weasley, Co-conspirator and Co-founder of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, now watched over the shop, cheerfully chatting to his brothers, flirting with the sales assistant Verity, and brightly answering any questions the customers saw fit to pose to him.

- - -

"Allie!"

There was only one girl in Ottery St Catchpole with a Gryffindor-red bicycle. He watched as the distant figure applied the breaks, skidding to a halt before peering around for the source of the call. George jogged toward her awkwardly, but she grinned and waved.

"Hello there!" she called. "I haven't seen you around in ages. I was beginning to think you'd done a runner on me!"

George reached her, slightly breathless. "How've you been?"

Allie shrugged, dismounting the bike gracefully. "All right. Been minding the shop for my folks a lot. Thrilling stuff…"

George grinned. "Good. I'm glad you've been enjoying yourself."

Allie met his eyes bravely. "You seem… better," she observed, scrutinizing him.

George nodded. "Yeah – yeah, I am. Well – I'm not, but it's getting easier."

Allie smiled. George watched her, suddenly uncertain. He liked her quite a bit, he'd decided, and after his birthday… Although it had taken him months to build up the courage, he suddenly felt ready.

"Do you fancy a walk?" he asked shyly.

Half an hour later, ice creams in hand, George found himself seated upon that same hill, overlooking the distant Burrow with Allie once again by his side.

"I'm glad we decided to do this."

"Me too. I don't think I've felt so… alive… in ages, you know?"

They got along extremely well, it transpired; she was bright and funny and he enjoyed her company immensely – not to mention her quiet understanding.

There seemed to be just one secret hanging between them, now. George drew a deep breath, preparing to bridge the gap.

"Allie?" he asked, eyes searching. "Can you keep a secret?"

Allie met his eyes, her own sparkling. "Well it depends," she replied thoughtfully. "If it's a secret that's meant to be kept, it's safe with me."

All things considering, that was probably the most honest answer that George could have hoped for – had she sworn complete secrecy, he wouldn't have trusted her, because complete and unconditional secrecy was a very unlikely thing. This, however – George was mildly impressed, especially as Allie was offering no apologies.

He nodded. "That's good enough for me."

Allie frowned, and George could tell that she hadn't been expecting that response. It struck him that someone was blunt as Allie was probably not everyone's favourite confidant. "But – what if it isn't meant to be kept…?"

George shook his head, unable to resist laughing gently. "Allie… Even if you told, I don't suppose anyone would believe you, anyway."

She was intrigued now; he could see it in the way she leant forward toward him eagerly, although her gaze remained steady and calm.

"So what's this big secret, then?" she asked when he had remained silent, thoughtful, for too long. She smiled playfully. "That you secretly fancy me?"

"That," he replied, off-handedly, licking his lips. "But – but something else, too. You see, Allie – Merlin, I've never explained this to a Muggle before-"

"A Muggle?" Allie interrupted, affronted, but George pressed a finger to his lips and she grew silent, although she eyed him suspiciously now.

"I suppose it's just better to say it, right?"

Allie nodded, arms crossed skeptically.

"All right, then," he agreed, drawing a deep breath. "Allie, I'm a wizard, I can do magic, and I own a magical joke shop and uh… You're laughing?"

Allie nodded, rocking back and forth as her eyes watered with mirth. "I thought you had something serious to tell me! I've always said those card tricks of yours were magic," she murmured, leaning against him.

George leant away, frowning. "No, I am serious."

Allie sat up, the laughter dying on her lips, although it still lurked uncertainly behind her eyes. "All right," she agreed. "If you're serious… prove it."

George frowned. "I'm probably breaching that stupid convention, aren't I?" he wondered aloud before shrugging. "Stand up then, I'll show you."

George stood himself and offered her a hand, pulling to her feet beside him easily. Her hand was warm and soft in his, and with the other, she absently brushed grass off her denim shorts.

"I'm going to take you to my shop, all right? Remember I said I would?"

She shrugged, still disbelieving, and George watched her measuringly now, praying that she would trust him. He needed for her to see this, because even though she somehow understood him, there was so much she would not understand about him, unless he could show her.

"You might feel a little squashed for a minute, though."

Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes! he thought.

Crack!

- - -

Allie released his hand and stumbled back into the counter.

"Shit," she swore, eyes widening as they took in the large, dark shop, which to her eyes was undoubtedly a maze of shadowy shelves. "What the hell is going on? I don't even know you, George! Shit. Where am I?"

George stepped backward, away from the counter to give her some space. The last thing he wanted was to have her feel threatened.

Merlin, he'd probably blown it, now. Internally, he kicked himself for being so stupid. The first girl he had really, truly liked, and he was scaring her off with his immaturity. Why hadn't he thought this through some more?

George pressed a hand to his forehead, imagining Fred laughing at him, his brother's figure doubled over in the doorway to the back room, a shadowy memory blurring with the darkness.

Light. They needed light.

George clapped his hands, just once, and the shop illuminated. The laughing Fred vanished as Allie stared at the ceiling, startled.

"My name is George Weasley, and you're standing in my shop," he told her steadily. "I'm a wizard, I can do magic…"

"But why did you have to tell me about it?" she hissed, clutching at the counter for support, still, and watching him, alarmed.

"Because I fancy you," George shot back, holding her gaze seriously. "I like you, and I know this complicates things for you, but I can't… we can't… unless you knew. You need to know who and what I am, and not care. Please?"

There was a hint of pleading to his voice now, and Allie's expression softened. For a moment, it had been obvious she didn't trust him, but this seemed to be the boy she knew, and the knowledge relaxed her; he wasn't some madman, after all. Releasing the counter, she stood alone now, gazing around the shop with growing interest.

"Oh George. I like you all the same… but things were a lot less complicated when you were the friendly boy from the village."

"I'm still the friendly boy from the village," he corrected, smiling as he took a step closer.

He breathed a sigh of relief when she didn't move away.

"But you can do magic."

George shrugged. "Yes. I can do magic."

A sudden thought crossed his mind, and turning to the barrel of fake wands that stood between a shelf and the counter, he grabbed one, crossed his fingers and tossed it to her. Allie caught it, startled, as it transformed into a…. rubber chicken.

George sighed ruefully. "That was supposed to be a bouquet of flowers," he apologized.

Allie grinned and tossed it back, watching as it turned back into the long, wooden stick and smiling as George returned it to the barrel.

"Better luck next time," she murmured, and all of a sudden they both laughed, surprised at each other.

"So – you can do magic, George Weasley. Real magic."

"I can," he agreed. "And you're a Muggle, Allie Pickering."

"You remembered!" she grinned, surprised. "What's a Muggle, then?"

"Someone who can't do magic."

Allie's smile widened. "Oh good, I thought it was something rude."

George laughed again, and was caught quite off guard when she moved closer again and pressed her smiling lips to his.

"George Weasley, I know you're a wizard, and I don't care in the slightest."

George gripped her arms, meeting her eyes searchingly. "Are you sure?"

Allie nodded, absolutely sincere. "I'm sure. Now take me home, please."

George glanced around the shop reluctantly. There was so much he wanted to show her – their advanced defensive magic range, and the disappearing hats, and the pygmy puffs, and…

"So long as I'm allowed to take you out for a drink tonight," he bargained, taking her hand in his.

Allie grinned again. "I think that could be arranged."

George nodded, pleased. "Hold on, then."

Crack!

- - -

"I – I could walk you home?" George offered quietly, as they sat once again on the hill. "I mean, we could Apparate, but I don't know where you live, and you know – someone might see."

"Apparate?"

"You know – how I took you to the shop."

"Is that what it's called, then? Apparate?"

George nodded. "Yeah – Apparating, yeah, sorry. I probably should have explained that a little better."

Allie shrugged. "It doesn't matter," she replied off handedly. "You'll learn. Besides, you got the squished feeling part right."

George laughed. "Just wait til you try Flooing."

Allie shook her head, brown ponytail bobbing. "I don't even want to know."

George lay back and rolled over onto his side to watch her. She lay beside him on the grass, propped up on her elbows, watching the view thoughtfully.

"I'm so glad you didn't run away screaming," he told her honestly.

Allie glanced at him, startled. Eyes dancing, she leant up and kissed his cheek. "I think you've surprised me one too many times today for that to happen, George."

"By the way – my name isn't George."

She slapped him.

George raised his hands in defence, laughing. "I'm joking, I'm joking!"

- - -

George sat on the old swing set, drifting idly, backwards and forwards. Something told him he was waiting for Allie, although he couldn't quite be sure what. Suddenly, there was the squeak of someone taking a seat beside him, and George looked over grinning, except that instead of Allie, it was…

Fred.

Fred grinned. "Long time no see," he murmured.

George leapt to his feet, reaching over to grab Fred into a rough embrace. Head buried in Fred's shoulder, he inhaled his brother's familiar smell. All of a sudden, though, he seemed to come to his senses, and they released each other and drew away.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, dazed.

His twin shrugged, resuming his seat on the swing. "Just wanted to see how you were."

George frowned, shrugging, but despite his apparently calmness, everything seemed to come tumbling out. After all, George didn't know how much time they had. "Good enough. Have you seen Allie? Remember her, from the paper shop? And Percy's still being a pompous arse, but every one else can look me in the eyes now… and the shop's open again. Ron's helping me for now, although he's not as good as you…"

Fred listened, eyes glistening as he nodded.

"How's Mum?" he asked quietly. George looked away.

"She's all right ... Dad, too. Coping, which is better than they were. We're all fine, except we're not, because you're not with us, but we're starting to... I don't know. We're starting to try, again... For you, because we know you wouldn't want us to be like this, even though we need to be."

Fred met his eyes levelly. "I think about you all, every day."

They held each other's gaze, nodding, both lost in thought. There was so much to say, and yet nothing at all, as everything passed between them unspoken; the way it always had been.

"I miss you more than anything in the world," George said suddenly. "But I can be happy, too… Even though you aren't with me, anymore. Well, you're always there, just…"

Fred smiled, reaching across to grip George's shoulder. "You need to be happy, George. You'll be all right without me, now."

George nodded, wiping a hand across his eyes. He hadn't even realised he was crying.

"Yeah," he agreed quietly. "I'll be all right without you."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note: That was the second and final installment. I hope you all enjoyed it, and as always I would love to hear your thoughts, criticisms and appreciations – all feedback is most welcome!

I know Allie featured much more prominently in this second installment, but that is because she characterizes George's healing process, so you know… She's there for a reason! But thank you so much for the feedback I've had for her in particular, as I've never written an OC before and you've been most helpful in shaping her!

You guys have been absolutely wonderful, I'd like to thank all my reviewers once again, I feel so lucky to have such a strong support basis! Thank you for reading and reviewing,

Lexie