Lily awoke just before midnight to the sound of thunder outside her window, and after that she couldn't get back to sleep.
It wasn't that she was afraid of thunder - she wasn't. Thunder couldn't hurt you. She'd studied electrical storms in school, six years ago, back before she'd gotten her Hogwarts letter; and while she wouldn't dare call herself an expert on the subject, she knew that thunder was absolutely harmless. It was loud, sure, and sometimes startling, but it didn't make the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, and it didn't make her shiver beneath the covers.
No, that honor belonged to the lightning.
Nobody else in the dormitory was awake. Lily lay on her back and stared up at the canopy of her four-poster, trying not to think about the horror stories her sister used to tell her. "There's a man," Petunia had said one Halloween when Lily was still foolish enough - or was she just perceptive enough? - to believe in ghosts. "There's a man, and he was struck by lightning at midnight a thousand years ago, and he died. But every year on Halloween he comes back from the grave. He can't talk, but he stumbles around with his arms stretched out like this, and if he touches you, zap! You get zapped by his lightning and you die just like him."
Then Petunia had shuffled across the carpet in her socks and touched Lily's nose, giving her a mild shock.
Lily hadn't really believed in the Lightning Man. Her shriek of fright had been for Petunia's benefit; and yes, she was afraid of lightning, but that was a perfectly legitimate fear, because thunder was harmless but lightning could come out of nowhere and kill a person. But you're indoors, Lily, she told herself firmly, squeezing her eyes shut. And it's not like lightning can burst through a window and -
A particularly bright flash made her flinch. With a sigh, she gathered her comforter up around herself, slid out of bed, and padded barefoot down to the common room. At least there were ways to distract herself down there: books to read, and chess pieces to talk to, and a nice cozy fire to help her grow drowsy. There were still windows, and she could still see the rain lashing against the glass, but at least the crackling of the fire drowned out a bit of the thunder.
The common room was deserted, as she had known it would be. Lily chose a book from a pile in the corner and settled into an armchair. The heat from the fire worked its way through her cocoon of blankets, and before long she was nodding . . . her book had slipped out of her lap . . . somewhere far away a clock struck midnight. . . .
The hand that came down on her shoulder coincided perfectly with a flash of lightning, and Lily was wide awake once more.
"Gah!" she croaked, whipping her head around, and the word zap! rang in her head as if Petunia herself had whispered it in her ear only moments ago.
"The hell are you doing out here, eh?"
It was a familiar voice, and Lily freed one of her arms to slap the shoulder of the speaker. "Sirius Black, you gave me a heart attack."
The tall boy grinned and pushed his long hair away from his face. "It's after hours," he said.
"I'm perfectly aware."
"Are you?" He had moved around the chair so he was crouching in front of her instead of hovering behind. "Because I'm not sure - but I think you're breaking the rules, Evans."
"So are you," Lily said. Her heart was still thumping.
"Yeah, but I always break the rules." The firelight made his face look different - not soft, Lily thought, but less sharp, less angular - he looked almost tender - it was something about the eyes - tender, but also fierce, in a juxtaposition of expressions that didn't make sense - and she had to remind herself that she hated this boy.
"Who says I don't?" she said.
Sirius snorted. "The day Lily Evans breaks a school rule is the day I marry Snivellus."
Lily clenched her jaw. "Leave him alone, Black."
Sirius was grinning. "What are you going to do about it? Report me? Is that why you're down here, so you can catch me sneaking out and tell a prefect like the goody-goody that you are?"
Lily rolled her eyes. "Why are you down here? Just to make fun of me?"
"Don't flatter yourself, Evans, I'm here on official business."
"Well." She reached down to retrieve her book with her free arm. "Carry on, then."
Sirius looked like he wanted to say more, but he turned away from her. "See you in a bit, when I come back," he said over her shoulder, and he climbed through the portrait hole and disappeared.
"Idiot," Lily said under her breath as she thumbed through her book to find her place. It was still raining, and it irritated her twice as much as it had before - every exchange with that bully Sirius Black left her in a bad mood.
It was only a few minutes before sleep began to tug at her eyelids again. She carefully laid aside her book and snuggled down into the toasty warmth of her comforter, listening to the crackle of the firewood, trying not to pay attention to the thunder outside. Her mind drifted once more to Petunia's ghost stories. Halloween was tomorrow - or today, actually, if the clock had already struck midnight - and she wondered whether Tuney was going to trick-or-treat, or whether she considered herself too mature for that now . . . every inch of her was so deliciously warm . . . maybe she and Sev could find time to talk tomorrow, he'd been scarce lately but she missed him, and maybe she'd tell him the story of the Lightning Man . . . the Lightning Man, who walked the earth on Halloween and reached for you and zapped you, and Lily didn't really believe in him but deep down of course she did, she went to a school for magic, she knew anything was possible, everything was possible, and the Lightning Man was probably wandering around this very minute, maybe it this very castle . . . she swore she could hear him coming up behind her, but she was so close to sleep, she was so close to drifting away entirely . . . it was a dream, she was dreaming, and she was fine, all fine . . . the fireplace was warm . . . the blankets were cozy . . . the lightning outside flashed -
"Boo!" someone breathed in her ear, and Lily sat bolt upright and blindly lashed out with her fist.
"OI!" shouted the Lightning Man as her knuckles connected with his nose. "Evans, what in the name of Merlin's saggy left - "
"Sirius?" she croaked.
He was rolling around on the floor, hands clamped over his face. "Who the hell else would it be?"
"I'm sorry." Her heart was thudding. "You startled me."
"You broke my nose."
"Oh, I did not," she said crossly.
"Let me see." She reached out to grab him; he flinched away, but she took him firmly by the chin and coaxed his face into the firelight. "It's not broken," she said when she'd examined him thoroughly.
He swore. "Feels like it."
"Well, it isn't."
"At least say you're sorry."
"I think this merits a second apology, don't you?"
"I'm sorry you're pathetic enough to be felled by a goody-goody like me."
"Funny," Sirius said dryly.
(She hadn't let go of his chin. He hadn't pulled away.)
"If you hadn't scared me," Lily began, and she wouldn't look into his eyes in case the firelight was playing its tricks again, "you wouldn't be sitting here whining like a toddler."
"If you hadn't been out of bed after hours," Sirius said in a lofty voice that was probably supposed to be an imitation of her.
She finally let go of his face. "Are you going to tell me why you were out of bed after hours?" she asked.
"I don't think I owe you anything."
"You gave me a heart attack," she reminded him.
"I did not."
"How do you know?"
"If I gave you a heart attack, then you broke my nose."
Lily slid off her chair and arranged herself next to him. "My heart," she said, putting her hand against her chest, "is pounding."
He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Not the same as a heart attack."
A bright flash of lightning interrupted whatever clever retort she had in mind; she let out an embarrassingly girly squeak and wrapped her arms around herself.
"Afraid of the storm?" Sirius asked, and she still wasn't looking at him but she had a feeling he was smirking.
"You're a bad liar."
"I'm not afraid of a little rain."
She turned. His face was, to her surprise, utterly serious. "Yes?"
"I'm afraid of it."
She didn't know whether it was because she'd hit his nose or because she'd wounded his pride or because of the firelight, but something in his tone was heavy, honest, even, and for the first time since she'd met him, Lily felt something more potent than disgust for Sirius Black.
"My mum. She locked me out of the house in a storm once. I was young - five, maybe, or six. I'd done something wrong. I was always doing something wrong. She locked me out, and said I couldn't come back until the storm was over, and I thought - it's stupid now, but I really thought I was going to die. And ever since, it's been quite traumatic for me to look at the rain."
He was gazing into the fire, and Lily was gazing at him.
"Is that why you left your dormitory?" Lily asked after a few seconds of silence. "To get away from the noise of the storm?"
He grinned, but it was half-hearted. "Nah, I just like to go down to the kitchens once in awhile for a midnight snack."
"Oh." Lily began to play with her toes. "That's why I came out here."
"To get away from the noise?"
She shook her head. "The lightning."
"What happened, get struck as a kid?"
"Not exactly." She launched into a retelling of the story of the Lightning Man, and when she was done, Sirius didn't even laugh at her.
"I've never told anyone," he said. "About being locked outside. Not even James. Nobody knows."
"Your secret is safe with me," Lily said. "And you'll keep quiet about my Lightning Man?"
"No, Evans, I'm going to tell everyone we know."
The word we sounded foreign coming from his tongue, but the firelight made it sound warm, and she wondered whether Sirius felt as heavy and safe as she did.
"So, what," he said a moment later, turning his entire body to face her. "The Lightning Man just comes up to you and touches you - " he demonstrated on her shoulder " - and zap,you're dead?"
Lily nodded; she hesitated for a split second before she returned the gesture. "Zap."
He grinned. "Kind of fun, don't you think? Zap." His fingers brushed her collarbone.
With a hand that trembled only slightly, she touched the side of his neck. "Zap," she whispered, and she let her palm linger.
He inched closed. "Zap." His hand was on her cheek.
"Zap." Both hands against his neck, and he had to feel her shaking, but he wound his hand through her hair anyway.
"Are we really doing this?" he murmured, and there it was again, that we.
A flash of lightning, but Lily's heart was pounding for an entirely different reason.
"Zap," and if it hadn't been for the firelight she probably would have said no, they weren't really doing this, she hated him as much as she hated Potter and she was going to bed.
"Evans," he breathed. "I'm pretty sure we're both dead by now."
She didn't crack a smile, and neither did he.
"I'm sorry I broke your nose," she said.
"I'm sorry I gave you a heart attack." He was so close to her face.
If he'd given her a heart attack before, it was nothing compared to this. "Sirius?"
"I - I - "
He leaned forward so suddenly that she didn't have time to register the movement before he was kissing her. "Zap," he murmured against her lips.
Lightning flashed outside, but Lily didn't notice.
[One of Every Letter Challenge: Z]
[Arithmancy Class: Marauder's Era; Halloween]
[Disney Characters Competition: Piglet - write about someone's fear]
[Last Man Standing Competition: NOTP - Sirius/Lily]
[Twelve Days of Christmas Style Challenge: Eight genres - hurt/comfort (3/8)]