In the stories Amelia Pond had read, children always liked it when it snowed. They would have snowball fights with their friends, or their parents would take them to a hill and give them toboggan rides, or they'd build a snowman. Real life wasn't anything like as enjoyable. Her friends, even Rory, were separated from her by an exhausting trek through snow that came up to the tops of her Wellington boots. She didn't have any parents, and Aunt Sharon was far too busy fretting about boring grown-up stuff like leaking roofs and black ice and whether the shops would have any bread to have any time for going out and having fun with Amelia. That left building a snowman, and an hour's hard labour in the garden had left her with cold hands and face, an amorphous heap of snow, and a conviction that she'd missed some important part of the process.
She folded her arms and glared at the abortive snowman. Now that she wasn't busy heaping up snow, she realised how quiet it was. On a normal day she might hear the sound of passers-by, the hum of traffic, music from someone's radio. With everybody indoors and deep snow stretching as far as she could see, she felt as if she might be the last person in the world. Even the sky looked as if it was closing in on her.
The snow deadened sound so much that she didn't hear the two people walking up the road until they were quite close. A glance was enough to tell her that they weren't from the village. She could recognise many of the inhabitants by sight, and could put names or descriptions to most of them – the postman, the milkman, the neighbours, the vicar – and these weren't any of them. She ducked behind a tree, in case the new arrivals were the sort of strangers you weren't supposed to talk to, and observed them carefully.
They were a man and a woman, or maybe a boy and a girl – she wasn't entirely sure which category they fell into. The woman was wearing a big coat with black and white zigzags all over it, and black trousers, and yellow wellies. She had a stripy scarf wrapped round her head, with dark hair peeking out from under it. The man was dressed in a jumper, and what looked like a skirt, but Amelia knew better: it was a kilt. His legs were bare, and he was wearing hairy socks and big heavy boots. Both the man and the woman were dusted with snow. As they came closer Amelia could hear what they were talking about.
"Let's face it," the woman was saying, in an accent Amelia didn't recognise. "When they said freak weather conditions they weren't mucking about. We're stuck here till tomorrow at least. There's no way a bus could get through this lot."
"Well, then, we'll jist have tae find somewhere to spend the night," the man said.
"Oh, yeah? Who's gonna take us in?" The woman gestured in the direction of Amelia's house. "Dunno who lives there, but I don't reckon they'd take kindly to having us roll up at the door and invite ourselves in."
"Aye, well, if it comes to it, we'll have tae find a shed or a haystack or something."
"You're not serious. Spend the night in a freezing haystack?"
"It wouldnae be so bad. Anyway, we Scots don't feel the cold."
"Oh, so your legs have gone blue for some other reason, then? I'd watch out, Jamie McCrimmon. Much more of this and you'll start having bits drop off, like a brass monkey. And then what'll I do?"
"Tell me you told me so and it's all my own fault," the man, who presumably was Jamie, replied with a grin.
"That isn't funny," the woman snapped back. "I hate this stupid weather. We never used to get it when I was a kid."
She kicked out at a nearby snowdrift, staggered, lost her balance, and caught at a nearby tree, one of the ones growing in Amelia's garden that hung over the front fence. Snow cascaded down from the branches onto her head and shoulders. Jamie burst out laughing, and Amelia couldn't help giggling too.
"Hello," Jamie said. "Who are you, then?"
With a start, Amelia realised she hadn't been taking care to stay hidden. The two passers-by had noticed her, and were now both looking right at her.
"I shouldn't talk to you," she said. "You're probably strangers."
"Hey," the woman said, shaking snow off herself. "You're Scottish, aren't you?"
"Yes," Amelia said, still poised for flight.
The woman laughed. "You know how to pick them, Jamie. What are the odds? You talk to some kid and it turns out she's Scottish. Probably the only one in a hundred miles."
"I'm not a kid," Amelia said firmly. "Kids are baby goats."
"All right, then." The man crouched down, so his eye level was closer to Amelia's. "You're a wee lassie. A wee Scottish lassie. What's your name? Mine's Jamie."
"Yes, I know." Amelia pointed at the woman. "I heard her call you Jamie."
"Well, if ye ken my name, it's polite for you tae tell me yours, isn't it?"
Amelia considered this. "Amelia Pond."
"And what are ye doing out in all this snow, Amelia Pond?"
"I'm building a snowman." Somehow, the question of whether it was safe for her to talk to these people had been answered without having been asked. "But it won't come out right."
"D'you want us to give you a hand?" the woman asked.
"I think you'd better. I can't get it to work at all."
"OK. Come on, Jamie."
"Sam, d'ye ken how tae build a snowman?" Jamie asked, opening the garden gate.
"'Course I do," the woman said defiantly.
"Only ye jist said it didnae snow like this when ye were a bairn, so–"
"That doesn't mean I'm clueless. Right, Amelia, we need to make a big snowball."
"Is your name really Sam?" Amelia asked, obediently moulding snow into shape with her gloved hands. "Only that's a boy's name."
"It's short for Samantha," the woman said. "Jamie, are you gonna stand around shivering or are you gonna make yourself useful?"
"Ye've not said what ye want me tae do," Jamie pointed out.
"Make another snowball. That'll be his head." Samantha turned to Amelia. "He's quite good, really, if you tell him what to do."
"I've got a friend like that," Amelia said. "I tell him what to do all the time. He's called Rory."
By the time it got dark, they'd long since finished the snowman, and had gone on to have a snowball fight quite the equal of anything Amelia had read about or imagined. Aunt Sharon still hadn't returned from wherever it was she'd gone that morning, and Amelia had taken advantage of her status as temporary mistress of the house to invite her new friends in for tea. Jamie had at once headed for the kitchen and set about making sandwiches for all of them, while Samantha had been more concerned with hanging up her coat and scarf, and complaining about the amount of snow that Jamie had managed to get down the back of her neck. Amelia, having thrown aside her own snow-covered duffle coat, paused to reflect on what kind of people Jamie and Samantha were.
When she'd first seen them, she hadn't been sure whether they were a boy and a girl, or a man and a woman. After a couple of hours with them, she was even more puzzled about them. They weren't like any grownups she'd met before; they didn't talk over her head, or fuss about things like weather or schools or money. But neither did they treat her as an annoyance, like the teenagers who hung around the bus shelter or the occasional babysitter she'd been lumbered with. She was inclined to wonder if, like the Raggedy Doctor, they didn't count as 'people' at all.
It was over tea that Samantha asked Amelia, "Isn't your mum gonna come back some time?"
"I don't have a mum," Amelia said, between bites of one of Jamie's inexpertly-made sandwiches. He hadn't used the proper knife to cut the bread, and he'd made the slices far too thick, but it still somehow tasted better than the sandwiches her aunt made. "My auntie looks after me."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Well, when's your auntie coming back?"
Amelia shrugged. "I don't know. Sometimes she doesn't come back until after my bedtime."
Samantha leaned over to Jamie, and had a brief whispered conversation. Then she turned back to Amelia.
"Do you think it'd be all right if we stayed with you till she shows up?" she asked. "Keep an eye on you and so on."
"I don't need keeping an eye on," Amelia said.
"Aye, but ye might get bored," Jamie suggested innocently. "We could play a game of something. D'ye ken how tae play chess?"
Amelia shook her head.
"Don't worry," Samantha said. "He doesn't either. Not properly."
"I can!" Jamie protested.
"No, you can't. How many times have I told you about the way the knights move?"
"They shouldnae move in such a silly way." Jamie ostentatiously turned to Amelia. "So what games d'ye play with your friend Rory?"
Amelia hesitated. She knew, all too well, what people thought of her definitely-not-imaginary friend and the elaborate games that she'd constructed around him. People would refuse to believe her, either politely, or scornfully. But then, she'd already decided that Jamie and Samantha weren't behaving like 'people'.
"I've got a friend," she said. "He's called the Doctor."
Samantha, who had happened to be drinking orange squash, swallowed a mouthful at the wrong moment, spluttered, and bent over coughing. Jamie jumped up, ran round the table, and thumped her on the back.
"Are you all right?" Amelia asked, as Samantha regained her breath.
"Yeah." Samantha's voice still sounded cracked. "Bit of juice went down the wrong way, that's all. You were saying about this Doctor?"
Amelia took a deep breath, and began her tale. By the time she'd finished, tea was over, the plates and glasses had been heaped precariously on the draining board, and Jamie and Samantha were leaning forward, hanging on every word Amelia was saying.
"The next day I woke up in bed," Amelia eventually said. "Aunt Sharon says I dreamed it all, but I know I didn't. And the shed was still smashed to bits."
"There's no way you could've done that," Jamie said.
"I probably could have, if I wanted to," Amelia said, turning ideas for demolition over in her mind. "I just didn't."
"And now you pretend Rory's the Doctor and you're his assistant?" Samantha asked.
"That's right. I want to keep in practice for when the real Doctor comes back. He's not as good as the real one," she added, in the tones of a judge making a reluctant pronouncement. "But he tries his best."
"What sort of Doctor d'you think Jamie would make?" Samantha asked.
Amelia considered the question. "You're grownups," she said. "Aren't you? Grownups aren't any good at let's pretend."
"Him a grownup?" Samantha asked. "That's the funniest thing I've heard all day. He's just a big kid at heart. Come on, Jamie, you'll pretend to be the Doctor for Amelia, won't you?"
"If you'd like me to?" Jamie said, turning to Amelia.
Amelia thought again. "All right," she said. "But if you're no good I'll tell you to stop."
"What about me?" Samantha asked.
"Simple," Jamie said with a grin. "I'm the Doctor, Amelia's my trusty assistant, so you've got tae be the baddie. Evil Empress Samantha, Ruler of the Hundred Worlds."
Amelia jumped to her feet.
"Come into the front room," she said. "We can make a time machine if we push all the chairs and the settee together."
"I think it's getting on for Amelia's bedtime," Samantha said.
"Ye're jist a bad loser," Jamie said. "We beat you fair and square and threw you in your own dungeons."
"Yeah, about that. What's Amelia's aunt gonna say when she comes in and finds the room like this and me in the middle of it all?"
Jamie glanced around the room, noting the heaps of cushions (on one of which Amelia was dozing), the disarranged furniture, and the upturned armchair under which the erstwhile Empress Samantha was lying, her hands and feet bound with lengths of fabric normally used to tie the curtains back.
"Ye think she'll be upset, then?"
"My mam would be. Jamie, we need to get this mess sorted out and I can't do that while I'm tied up like a— like a divvy."
"Och, all right then." Jamie rose to his feet, lifted the chair off Samantha, and freed her from her captivity. "There."
"I suppose it could've been worse. You could've gagged me too."
"Now there's a thought."
"You'd better not think it. Stop looking like that and let's start getting this place to rights."
Amelia opened her eyes. "What are you doing?"
"We're tidying up," Samantha said. "So your aunt doesn't get a cob on when she comes back and finds the room upside down."
"Then you're a grownup after all," Amelia said.
Samantha shrugged. "Sorry, but someone's got to be."
Amelia seemed to realise that argument would be unavailing, and made no objection as the room was returned to relative normality. Displaced from her heap of cushions, she promptly climbed into the armchair as soon as it was restored to its proper orientation.
"Now what?" she said.
"Sam thinks you should go tae bed," Jamie said. "It's getting late."
Amelia shook her head. "I'm going to wait until Auntie comes back, so I can tell her you're going to sleep here."
"What if she says we can't?"
"Then I'll make her." Amelia let out a yawn. "You're my friends and you're real and she's not going to make you sleep in the shed."
"Well, take a nap, then," Samantha suggested. "We'll wake you if anything happens."
"I won't go to sleep," Amelia retorted, but it was no more than a token protest. Within minutes her eyes were closed and her breathing regular. She could have been pretending, Samantha supposed, but if so she was a superb actress.
Once she was sure Amelia was truly asleep and there was nothing more to do in the way of tidying, Samantha joined Jamie on the settee.
"What d'you make of all this?" she asked, in a low voice.
"All what?" Jamie replied, equally quietly.
"Do you think she really met the Doctor?"
"She must have done. Ye remember that picture she went and got for us. That was the TARDIS, there's no two ways about it."
"Yeah, but the Doctor never wears a suit. And, I dunno... I suppose when you're a kid it's hard to tell, but the way she was talking he was quite a young bloke."
"Perhaps it's his son."
"Maybe. We'll have to ask him." Samantha glanced over to the sleeping girl, and lowered her voice further. "We should tell her."
"What should we tell her?"
"You know perfectly well." For emphasis, Samantha poked Jamie in the chest. "We know the Doctor's real. And the TARDIS, 'cos we live in it."
"Oh, aye, and what would the lass do if we did tell her that?"
"She'd— Oh, I get it. She'd follow us, wouldn't she?"
"Maybe she'd even want tae come with us, and then where'd she be?"
Samantha looked at Amelia again, and imagined her broken body lying motionless at the feet of a Cyberman. "Yeah, I see what you mean."
"If the Doctor said he'll come back for her, he'll come back for her." Jamie took Samantha's hand in his own. "It doesnae do to interfere in his plans."
"That's rubbish. We muck about in his plans all the time." She held up her free hand as Jamie opened his mouth. "All right, all right, I know what you mean." She decided that a change of subject was due. "What's it like for you, visiting somewhere like this?"
"What d'ye mean?"
"The house and the village and... well, everything. You must find it so weird. I mean, it's a few years in the future for me but it's hundreds and hundreds for you, isn't it?"
"Two hundred, maybe three?" Jamie said, with a shrug.
"And you're saying all this stuff doesn't seem weird to you?"
"Travel with the Doctor for a while and you get used to it. But I ken what ye mean." He indicated the plastic, tinsel-bedecked conifer in the corner. "Why did they want to put up yon tree indoors?"
"Because—" Samantha started out confidently, and realised she didn't have any idea either. "I dunno. It's just something everyone does at Christmas."
"Well, we managed fine without one."
"What was it like for you? I mean, back then."
"Jist another day, really. Hogmanay was when we had all the dancing and the piping." Jamie thought briefly. "I mind that we had to stay up on Christmas Eve and keep the fire burning, so the Fair Folk couldnae get down the chimney."
"I bet you had to keep the fire burning anyway," Samantha said, with an exaggerated shiver.
"Aye, the winters can be cruel. People could get snowed in for days, up in the hills. Properly snowed in." He waved at the curtained window, the gesture encompassing the vista of snow and ice beyond it. "Not just a few wee flakes like you've got out there."
Samantha moved closer to Jamie. "That sounds romantic," she said. "All alone in a little cottage, snuggling together in the firelight."
"More like two of us and half a dozen sheep sharing a byre," Jamie said practically. "And more fleas than you could count. And nothing to eat or drink except melted snow. And you'd not be able to wash."
"Oh. Yeah. Maybe not such a nice idea. I bet the place'd stink, too."
"Ye'd get used to that." Jamie smiled at her expression. "I mind when it happened to Donald and Mary. They were sweet on each other. Then they got snowed up in a shepherd's hut. Four days they were trapped there."
"With a load of sheep?" Samantha asked.
"Aye, with the sheep, like I said. And by the time they got rescued, they weren't talking to each other. Mary said later they'd spent most of the time arguing about whose fault it was. It was next Easter before they started walking out again."
"And that's a traditional Highland Christmas?" Samantha pulled a face. "Give me a plate of turkey and a snog under the mistletoe any time."
Before Jamie could reply, the note of an approaching diesel engine could be heard, and white light shone round the edges of the curtains. On her chair, Amelia stirred, opened her eyes, and looked up.
"What's happening?" she asked.
"There's a car coming," Samantha said. "Or a jeep or something."
"That'll be my aunt, then." Amelia got to her feet. "I'll go and explain about you."
She crossed to the hall door. As she did so, the light went out, and the engine noise faded into silence.
"We'd better go with her," Jamie said.
"Yeah," Samantha added. "Or this aunt'll think we're both make-believe, just like the Doctor."
They followed Amelia out into the hall. As they did so, the front door opened and a harried-looking woman, carrying several bags of shopping, swept in.
"What a nightmare!" she proclaimed. "It took an hour and a half just to get off the motorway. At least I..."
She tailed off as she realised that Amelia wasn't alone.
"Who the hell are you?" she demanded. "And what are you doing in my house?"
"I'm Samantha Briggs," Samantha said. "Sorry if we startled you. This is my boyfriend Jamie."
"Now just a—" Jamie began, but was cut off by an elbow in the ribs.
"We were trying to get to Rudford," Samantha continued remorselessly. "We got as far as here but then the snow got really bad and none of the buses were running and we're pretty much stuck."
"And your wee niece Amelia took us in and made sure we didnae cause any trouble," Jamie added. "Otherwise I couldnae say what we'd have done. We'd have had tae sleep under a hedge or something."
"It's true," Amelia said. "They helped me make a snowman and made sandwiches for tea and Jamie was the Doctor and—"
"Don't tell me you roped them into one of those interminable games of pretend." Amelia's aunt gave Jamie and Samantha a look intended to evoke adult sympathy for the impossible ways of children. "Sharon Thompson. Nice to meet you. I hope she wasn't too much of a trial to you." Like Amelia before her, she seemed to realise that she'd passed the point of no return. "I can't possibly turn you out at this time of night. There's a double bed in the spare room I could make up, if you...?"
"That'll be fine," Samantha said, before Jamie could so much as open his mouth. "For both of us. You're a star. Thanks ever so much." She leaned across to Jamie, and added, sotto voce, "Looks like I'm getting an early Christmas present this year."
"It's very good of you," Jamie said, blushing and not managing to meet Samantha's eyes.
"And now," Sharon said, "I'd best take this child up to her bed. It's long past your bedtime, girl. You'd better say goodbye to your friends now — I expect they'll be gone by the time you wake up."
"I want to shake hands," Amelia said.
"Goodbye, then, Amelia," Samantha said, solemnly shaking the girl's hand.
"Goodbye," Jamie added, doing likewise.
"Goodbye, Samantha. Goodbye, Jamie." Amelia walked half a dozen paces up the stairs, then stopped and turned.
"You were quite a good Doctor," she said, with that same air of a judge delivering a verdict. "Except for the bit where you kissed the Empress."
"She kissed me," Jamie protested.
"It's what evil villainesses do," Samantha added. "Take it from us."
"The proper Doctor wouldn't let people kiss him," Amelia replied witheringly. "Kissing's icky."