Severus woke in a hospital bed. He knew that much before even opening his eyes – there was a characteristic antiseptic smell. Potter had saved him, then, or someone else who was either ignorant or desperate or cruel. But when he finally dared to look he found that he was neither at Hogwarts nor Saint Mungo's. The ceiling above him was mottled, set in a pattern of overlapping arches that was distinctly unfamiliar. The bed had the look of muggle about it – too many sharp lines – but his wand was on the table beside it, well within reach. He put his hands to his face, his neck. It was entirely unmarked.
The door across from him opened, Severus snatched up his wand by instinct, but the man who came in was carrying a bowl of soup and no obvious weapons. He had improbable hair and a cheeky grin. Severus thought that he could easily put the man into the 'ignorant' category, but there was something old and worn in his eyes that belied that first impression. Severus recognized it unmistakably – he'd seen it in Albus' face often enough, and then in his own.
The man set the bowl on Thursday table and sat in a nearby chair.
"I'm the Doctor," he said, and somehow Severus knew it was more than a muggle title. "And you are?"
He hesitated, then abruptly gave in to the urge to tell the truth. "Severus Snape." If he was to be killed or tortured because the man knew who he was, better it be now. He'd thought he would be dead already – even these few moments were more than he'd dared hope for.
But the man, the Doctor, only nodded. "Mmm," he said. "I thought you might be. Hungry?"
After he'd eaten he was given a brief tour of the ship, inside and out. ("Most people say it's bigger on the inside, you know." "Do they?" said Severus. "They must be rather easily impressed." "Ah, yes. I always forget that it's not as exciting for you wizards.") It wasn't until the Doctor explained that it traveled in time as well as space that Severus had to admit, reluctantly, that he was impressed after all.
"So," the Doctor said. "A little trip is in order, I think, just to see how we get on. Where shall we go? When shall we go?"
Severus sucked in a breath. Such a question. It was tempting to choose the day by the lake, fifth year. To make a different path for himself, to be someone else, to have been someone else. More tempting still to choose Halloween, 1981, the night of Lily's sacrifice. To save her, even if it meant nothing for himself.
But no, no. It had happened. It could not un-happen, and if he tried he knew he would only break that which should not be broken.
The Doctor had sounded casual, but he was holding himself just carefully enough that Severus knew much depended on his answer.
"Forwards," he said, before he could talk himself out of it. The Doctor's shoulders relaxed abruptly. "A few days," Severus said. "Perhaps a week. I want to know—" He could not make himself finish the sentence aloud, but it rang in his head, inescapable.
Five minutes later, or a week later, or thousands of years before, depending on how one looked at it, a small blue box appeared on a mountainside. Its door opened, but no one came out.
Below, around the castle, people were working – most with wands, lifting great hulks of rubble, sending bits of glass flying upwards into frames that had begun to untwist, washing things clean with neat sprays of water. All of them wore black, in some way or other, but the ones that wore robes had the edges of them trimmed with yellow and blue and green and red.
Among them, not quite of them, was a boy. A young man, some would have said, but there was much of the boy still about him. He looked weary, worn thin and growing out of his clothes at the wrists, muddied and with his hair even more improbable than the Doctor's.
But he lived.
After a moment the door of the blue box closed itself up, and then it was gone.