"I'm sorry

"I'm sorry!" Colin's head fell, his cheeks flushing darkly with embarrassment as he looked down at the little pile of multicolored fragments that were all that remained of the fragile eggshell. He bit back the urge to swear, shoving his hand back into his pocket as Demelza smiled too sympathetically at him, tapping the shards with her wand.

"It's all right…there." There was a tiny flare of light, and they sprang back together, good as new. She picked up the now-restored egg, holding it out to him, and he took it carefully with his left hand as he scowled in frustration.

"It's not all right, it's stupid. It's like I'm not even a wizard." He put the egg down in the cardboard cradle of the carton next to the others that were already finished, then pushed back from Demelza's kitchen table, his other hand still tucked deep in his pocket.

"Of course you're a wizard," Demelza assured him patiently. "Heaven knows I've seen you do more than enough magic at school, you're every bit as good as the rest of us. It's just the Trace."

"The Trace that means I'm a kid for four more months," he said bitterly, "and my goddamned hand." He was quiet a moment, grateful that she didn't try to reassure him again, then he bit his lip, looking up at her deliberately. "I've been trying not to ask for a month now, Demmy, but I've got to know: is that why you suddenly agreed to go out with me? I mean, we've been in the same house, the same year, but you've never seemed to notice I particularly existed before, and I know you had a thing for Harry."

Her thin, dark brows drew together tightly, her head tilting. "I don't…why do you think I'd go out with you 'cause I once had a crush on Harry?"

"Not that, I meant was it because you felt sorry for me after my parents and this?" He pulled his hand from his pocket now, knocking it against the edge of the table to demonstrate the same lack of sensation that had lead three times to the demise of Easter eggs they had been attempting to decorate for the holiday that weekend.

She was silent a long moment, and he felt a sinking, resigned sickness as he knew she must be searching for a nice way to admit the truth, but then she shook her head, her dark curls bouncing. "I didn't feel sorry for you, no, but yeah, I guess that's why I finally noticed you. The way you've been so protective of Dennis, the way you've handled things with your injury, moving on after what happened to your parents…it's been really, well…masculine, I suppose would be the word."

Colin blinked, confused and rather offended by her choice of phrase. "'Masculine'?!' What's that supposed to mean? My hand's the only body part that changed over Christmas, I can promise you that!"

Demelza seemed just as surprised as he was by the reaction, staring at him in open disbelief. "Don't tell me you haven't known what people have been saying about you since first bloody year!" He shook his head, and she hesitated, then sighed. "Colin, everyone's thought you had a bigger crush on Harry than any of the witches. You haven't exactly been subtle. And you're kind of, um, you know, what Lavender calls 'sparkly', and you're not really into sports or anything, and sort of dainty…."

"I'm an inch and a half taller than Seamus!" he retorted defensively. "No one calls him a fairy! What? You've got to have biceps like Macmillan to fancy witches? Besides, I am into sports, it's just that nobody gives a crap about football at Hogwarts and no one would even know what it was if I said I took karate. Dean and I both pull for Arsenal, it's part of why we hung out so much…that and being Muggle-Born, and that he helped me with my photography a lot. He's got a really great eye, and I've wanted to be a photojournalist since I was about four. One of the ones like in National Geographic that goes down in the cage with the sharks and up Everest and into war zones and stuff. Never thought that was too poofy either, for that matter."

The young witch clapped a hand over her mouth, seeming torn between laughter and embarrassment at his outburst. "Oh, Colin, you didn't…that never helped your case, you silly. Didn't you ever catch that Dean was flirting with you?"

Colin's mouth dropped open. "Dean Thomas?"

She nodded. "Didn't make a big point of it, but I thought everyone knew, 'cause he didn't try to hide it either…well, except from Seamus, which is too bad, but he was probably right about what the reaction would've been there. He told Jack in particular that he thought you were pretty, though. He just didn't feel right making the first move when he was older and thought you were in love with Harry."

"I was never in love with Harry…I just…." He felt his cheeks heat, and he made a face. "I know I made an ass of myself, okay? But I really had no idea about the whole wizarding world until a month before I went to Hogwarts, and when my family started looking up stuff about it, he was about the most amazing thing I'd ever heard of. Really captured my imagination; a kid only a year older than me, someone who didn't know either, but he was this huge hero, and he'd already saved the Philosopher's Stone and was the youngest Seeker in about forever and he kept doing things every year that just made him all the more incredible, and I got it into my head that we could be friends, and it kind of got out of hand from there. I didn't realize how, well, obsessed I'd gotten until I had to take a serious look at myself this year as Secret-Keeper."

"That was really brave of you," Demelza said quietly. "And it was brilliant the way you used it to stop Draco. I think we were all sure that was the end of things."

He reached out, taking her hand with his, but watching carefully to be sure that the fingers barely closed, not wanting to hurt her. "I take it seriously. I know you're all depending on me."

Her fingers stroked over the back of his hand, and he closed his eyes, striving to feel the gentle brush, almost imagining that he could sense something, but knowing bitterly that it was only wishful thinking. "Do you ever wonder what will happen if they figure out we're using a Fidelius?"

"Every day," he admitted. "But I think I could hold, I do. Especially now. After what they've done to my parents, to Dennis, to all of you, I don't think there's anything that could make me tell. Certainly not the Cruciatus. I've had that twice now anyway, and it's awful, yeah, but in its own way, it's easy. When it's just your body, you can leave it behind, let your mind fly away from it like it's happening to someone else."

"I hope they don't figure it out," she said, and he opened his eyes, hearing the tentative smile in her tone before he saw it. "I like you, and I'm glad you're not into wizards."

Colin licked his lips, holding her eyes deliberately as he took a deep breath. "I…uh, I don't want to lie to you, Demmy. I didn't say that."

The dark eyes flew huge, her eyebrows nearly meeting her hairline as she yanked her hand back. "You just –"

"I said I like witches, and I don't have a crush on Harry, and I never did have that kind of crush on him. But if I'm gonna be completely honest, I've got to admit that as much as I like girls – and I do, definitely, I've had a couple of girlfriends in the Muggle world, like I told you – I've had a few times this year I've thought pretty seriously about wanting to snog Corner. I think I might like both, actually." He laughed nervously. "Or maybe Mike's just that gorgeous."

"But you're still…you honestly mean it that you like me?" Demelza smoothed her hands over her robes, trying not to look at him, and he felt suddenly regretful for his burst of maybe-foolish honesty. Why had he never been able to keep his mouth shut when it was good for him? He was worse than Finnigan sometimes!

"Of course I do!" He reached out with his good hand now, cupping it under her chin and lifting her face to him as he stood, taking a single step forward around the table and then kneeling beside her chair to look up at her with complete sincerity. "You're beautiful, you're smart, and you knocked Ginny all the way across the Room of Requirement with the most awesome Impedimenta I've ever seen. Maybe I wouldn't turn down the chance to kiss Corner, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't rather kiss you."

As means of proving his point, he raised himself to meet her mouth with his, kissing her far more deeply than he had on the Valentines Day that he now understood the awkwardness behind. She let out a little gasp, and his tongue pressed between her lips firmly as they parted, his fingers sliding along the line of her jaw and into her hair. He had never fully appreciated how wonderful it was just to feel, how sensitive fingertips really were, but every strand was so soft, so smooth, so cool and yet with the faint glow of warmth from her scalp below, and he hadn't expected that just the sensation of a girl's long hair between your fingers could be erotic, but it was.

She returned the kiss, hesitantly at first, then just as deeply, her own hands at the sides of his face and pulling them tighter together until the need for air finally broke them apart and they paused for a moment, foreheads still against one another's, already breathing harder than just the demands of oxygen. "God, Demmy," he gasped, his voice a growl so deep that it rather startled him. "You're…lock the door, will you?"

It took her a few seconds to fumble the wand from the pocket of her robes, then she waved it towards the kitchen door, never breaking their embrace as she gave him a wicked little smile. "Yes, sir, Sergeant."

"I'm not your C.O. here; we're on holiday, and this is your house," he murmured, tipping her head back to flick his tongue down the line of her throat, feeling the amazing softness of the skin over the steady, hungry rhythm of her pulse. "Or this would be harassment."

"It's only harassment if I don't like it," she replied softly, then her voice slid to a silken, dangerous purr as she began to unbutton his collar. "Besides, wouldn't it be disrespecting a superior officer to try to take his shirt off?"

"Then I'd better do it myself," he retorted. "Gotta keep things spit and polish, you know. We're at war."

"You certainly will be at war if that hand goes one more inch up my daughter's leg, Mr. Creevey."

Colin yelped and yanked back, Demelza letting out a little shriek as her father's voice sounded from the kitchen doorway. "I thought you'd locked it!"

"Alohomora is not beyond my abilities as a wizard, young man," Mr. Robins replied coolly, gesturing them further apart with his wand. His swarthy face was set in a look of stern disapproval, but there was a distinct trace of amusement in his eyes as he glowered at the two teenagers. "I'm quite glad that it occurred to me to wonder what in Merlin's name was taking so long about painting stripes on a dozen eggs."

Demelza tugged her robes back into place hastily, her hands fluttering nervously over her disheavled hair. "We were almost done," she said quickly, her voice almost a full octave higher than normal. "Colin kept breaking them. He can't feel what he's doing with that hand."

"Then perhaps we should let Dennis and your sister finish them, hmm?" Mr. Robins suggested coolly. "You two can help with something else. Something supervised, because it certainly seems he can compensate well enough for his little problem when he wants to."

"Yes, sir," Colin mumbled, staring down at his feet, his face so hot that he was certain it would burst into flames any moment. "Sorry, sir."

"Your mother is down in the basement with the laundry, Demelza." He waved his wand, and the door opened fully, then he summoned a chair away from the table and sat down facing Colin. "Why don't you go ask her what you can do while I have a little chat with your boyfriend."

"Daddy, I'm a grown witch, you have no right to –" she began to protest, but her father cut her off with a hard stare.

"You've been seventeen for all of a week, don't start with me. And Mr. Creevey is only sixteen." For a single, stupid moment, he almost argued that he was well over sixteen and a half, that there were only a few months between them, and that he certainly had more than the responsibilities of a grown man, but he bit his tongue at the last moment, stopping himself. One of the drawbacks of being Secret-Keeper was that the Fidelius Charm could not protect him against his own mouth, and he could not afford to be foolish just because he was embarrassed. Instead, he merely sighed, venting the frustration by tightening his hand on the edge of the table harder than pain should ever have allowed.

Thankfully, Demelza did not put up further argument, instead merely shooting her father a distinctly nasty look before leaving the two of them alone. There was a long pause, and Colin shifted nervously in his seat, wondering if he had managed to get himself and his brother kicked out. He and Dennis could still go to the Burrow, he knew, and the Slopers had promised them a spare room too, if it came to that, but he wasn't looking forward to having to explain why he needed to take them up on it.

"Have you slept with her?"

The question snapped his head up, and he felt his jaw drop as he shook his head quickly. "No, sir! I promise! We've kissed a little, but I swear, you caught us as far as we've ever gone!"

Mr. Robins studied him for several intense seconds, then nodded. "I suppose if you're lying to me, you're doing it well, and there's no real way for me to know unless I was going to try and get hold of some Veritaserum, which I think would be a little extreme, even if there's a part of me that's quite tempted."

"I don't give my word lightly, sir." Colin allowed the offense to show in his voice, but Mr. Robins seemed to have become distracted, his brows rising in an expression of mingled shock and horror, and he followed the older wizard's gaze down, wincing as he saw what had prompted it. Without realizing it, he had clutched the table's edge so tightly that the fingernails had torn from their beds, exposing raw but strangely bloodless flesh behind the jaggedly dangling crescents and split skin. "It doesn't hurt," he offered lamely, pulling his hand back and hiding it beneath the table, "I didn't even know I'd –"

"Clearly it doesn't hurt, boy, or you'd not have been worried about your honor half so much as your fingers!" Mr. Robins grimaced, taking his wrist firmly and turning the hand to survey the damage more closely. "Do Healing Spells work for you?"

"Oh, they work fine," Colin assured him. "If they didn't, I don't think I'd have much of it left at all. You never know how valuable pain is until you don't have it, but I've wound up doing a lot of damage without even knowing it, and I don't just mean to Easter eggs. Cut it, burned it, even smashed it in a door and broke all the fingers...although," he smiled sheepishly, "that was actually kind of cool the way it looked, even if it was a little disgusting and not something I ever want to do again."

Mr. Robins only made a non-committal noise as he tapped the torn flesh with his wand, watching silently as the edges of the wounds knit together, the shredded fingernails smoothing over again neatly. Only after there was no sign of anything out of the ordinary beyond the pallor that made it perpetually look as if he were wearing a flawlessly sheer white glove did he look up, his face solemn, with no trace of the reproach that Colin had expected after what he had been caught doing. "Lucinda and I have given permission for Demelza to invite you and your brother here for the holiday because she had told us about what happened to you, but she didn't tell me that the two of you were seeing one another. How long as that been going on?"

"I've liked her since last year," he admitted, "but I didn't get around to actually asking her out until Valentine's Day, and there hasn't been a whole lot of time for snogging around since then, 'cause things have been pretty busy at school."

"This being pretty busy wouldn't have anything to do with why you said you were at war, now would it?" Mr. Robins queried, and Colin took a deep breath, aware that he had to be extraordinarily careful in his answers.

"Of course we're at war, sir. The whole wizarding world is at war. I mean, if we were at peace, I'd be at my own parents' place right now, not to put too fine a point on it." It was a little too glib, a little too obvious, and he could see that the other man knew it.

"Hmmm. Be that as it may, if you're all sneaking around making life difficult for those Death Eaters that have taken over Albus Dumbledore's school, that's not something that I'm about to have a problem with, but I'm concerned by what I saw in here, obviously. If that's as far as it was going to go, I'm no Boggart, I'm not about to say that you're too young to have a good snog, but I want your promise that you're not going to try for more."

There was a long pause as Colin considered carefully, then he shook his head, refusing to look away even as he saw the flare of shocked disbelief on her father's face. "No, sir. I'm not going to promise that."

"Mr. Creevey --" His tone was a dark warning, but Colin pressed on firmly.

"I told you already, I take my word seriously, and I'm not going to promise you that I'm not going to wind up sleeping with your daughter. We're young, we're really into each other, and things are mental right now. The only way I could be certain to keep that promise would be to not see her at all, and we are at war, so quite frankly, I'm not going to give up what moments of love and happiness and pleasure there are when I could die any day."

"And if you don't get your tragically romantic Romeo and Juliet ending?" Mr. Robins said, a dark flush rising on his cheeks as he clearly struggled with the completely unexpected defiance. "I'm Half-Blood, boy, I know a lot of things you wouldn't expect me to, but I also know quite a few of them that come with being a lot older and wiser. You say you've just now learned how useful pain can be, but that doesn't mean you need to go around tempting it."

"I said I couldn't promise not to sleep with her," Colin replied unflinchingly, "but I can promise not to be an idiot about it if it does happen. I've been with a girl once before, and I did have my own parents, you know. I know how it works, I know how to take precautions. If this is about her virtue, then you should be having this talk with her, not me, because it's not hard to find a wizard who'll say yes if a witch is willing, but I'm not going to get her in trouble, if that's what you mean."

He smiled darkly, then gave a chuckle that rumbled on the edge of a derisive snort. "Hell, sir, there's a couple of seventh-years in Hufflepuff who ran off and got married over Christmas, and a lot of the girls suspect that she's up the duff now, and it depends on who you ask whether they think it was before or after. Real romantic, yeah, but personally - although if this gets back to Demelza or anyone else, I'll deny it -- I think they've been six kinds of moron. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen...it's all still really young, and just because I'm into Demelza now or Ernie's into Susan doesn't mean that'll stay that way once we're out in the real world. But then, half the kids I knew in primary school had divorced parents, so maybe it's different for wizards."

Colin shrugged, then drew his wand, placing it on the table between them. "Can't make a proper magical promise, but I hope you'll take it in the spirit I mean it if I say I swear not to be irresponsible, but that's it, and if you want to throw me out for it, I'd just ask that you let me be the one to tell Dennis. He's fragile these days."

At first, it looked as though Mr. Robins were about to do exactly that, but then the throbbing vein that had appeared at his temple seemed to retreat back into the flesh, and to Colin's shock, his head tilted back as his mouth fell open in a deep, resonant laugh. "Sweet Merlin's wand, boy, but I don't know what the hell to do with you!" He shook his head, staring across the table in a combination of amusement and baffled frustration that just wound up almost comically flushed and twisted. "Sit there and tell me to my face that you're after my little girl's knickers and not half ashamed of it, then turn around and make a bloody decent case for why that shouldn't bother me!"

Colin allowed a laugh of his own. "I've never been exactly shy."

"No, I see that." Mr. Robins chuckled again ruefully. "I am going to talk to Demelza, I want you to know that, and I'm also going to ask you to promise, since you say you take that so seriously, that you're not going to touch her with any part of you that doesn't know what it's doing. If you can do what I just saw to yourself..."

"Absolutely," he nodded fervently. "I don't want to hurt her!"

"Then really, I can't stop you from the rest once you're back at school, I know perfectly well kids have been finding ways around the Charms regarding that for centuries. But I think there could be worse young wizards she could have wound up with. You're quite mature for your age, Mr. Creevey, all things considered."

"I wish I wasn't," Colin admitted, shrugging. "But my mother liked to say that if you break eggs, you might as well make an omelete, and I've certainly broken enough fingers. Something might as well come of it."

"Then in that case," Mr. Robins smiled, "we should probably have omeletes for dinner, given what Demelza said about your attempts at painting the eggs."

"Sounds good..." he paused, then grinned. "But can I have Demmy for dessert?"

Subtlety had never been one of Colin's greater talents, as he had already confessed, nor, his duties with the D.A. notwithstanding, keeping quiet, so he was not entirely surprised to hear the remark come out of his mouth before he could stop it. What did surprise him, however, was to find out that the inability to use magic outside of school meant that he was entirely capable of being grounded for the next full week by someone not at all related to him. But he was sixteen, and there was still a great deal to learn in life.