A/N: A plot bunny about Cora's past. Enjoy!

Cora was counting stones in the puddle outside of her house.

She waiting for her Mama, as she came back from the castle. Mama only got to go home once and week, so most of the time Cora was on her own. She didn't mind though. Cora knew how to hide, how to cook, how to find something fun and good in everything. She thought how pretty the stones were, as they caught the shine of the moon. She was shivery and cold, but happy, because her Mama was coming home tonight. Maybe the cat would come today too, and then she would tell the cat all about-

"Oh Miss, please Miss, didn' mean ta wrong ya miss."

The voice carried through the alley where Cora was crouched, and the familiarity chilled her. Mama?

"I know that, dear. But the fact remains that you did." Who was the other voice? It didn't sound like anyone she knew. Not the old lady down the cobblestone street who made honey cakes, no it was much too screechy for that. Her voice was frightening and raspy. Cora stopped counting.

"And you know the price for wronging me." They were in view now. Her Mama looked scared, more scared than any other time she had seen her Mama scared. The lady was as frightening as her voice, old and wrinkled. Hair shriveled up and hidden in a dark, sable cloak. She crept along the wall, not making a sound.

"No please miss! I hav'nt done nothing too wrong! I can make up for i'! The scary woman lifted her hands now and purple shadows seemed to spring from them. The shadow squeezed around her Mama's throat and lifted her up into the air. Mama clawed at her throat, and thrashed her legs trying to free herself. Cora's eyes widened. Magic. She gasped audibly and flung herself forward.

"Mama!" And invisible force kept her away and she cried and clawed her for her mother.

"No Cora, stay back girl!" Her Mama rasped. But she was dying! Couldn't her Mama see that?

"So, you have a daughter then, dear?" A chill ran down Cora's back as she realized what she had done. Mama said she couldn't make her presence known to anyone but her. She had broken the rule. She had done something bad. She could feel it as she noticed the witch lady's crooked teeth form a smile. She reached down a frail, shriveled hand and attempted to lift Cora's chin. Cora shrugged it away, shivering violently now.

"Go 'way." She murmured. "Give me back my Mama!"

"Leave 'er alone!" Her Mama rasped again

The woman shook her head and smiled sardonically. This time she managed to grasp Cora's chin. Her yellow eyes, like the cat that visited sometimes, bore into hers with none of the kindness of the cat's. She leaned down and squinted her eyes at the child, and Cora squirmed at her gaze.

"Leave 'er alone! What are ya doin? She don't have nothin ta do with this! She's j'st a girl!" Her mother thrashed more wildly now, causing the purple shadow to squeeze harder. Cora's eyes widened even further and she squirmed in the witch lady's grasp. Let us go, please, let us go.

"Now, now. I have found a simple solution to settle this debt between us, dear. One that will cause much less grief." The witch lady reached for her then, and Cora tried to make a mad scramble for her Mama, but she missed. The witch lady's hand plunged into her chest, grasping her small heart.

"NO!"

She shrieked and shrieked as the witch lady pulled her heart right from her chest. It didn't hurt. It didn't hurt a bit. She should feel something, right? A pain…somewhere? But nothing. Nothing at all. She drooped and tucked her arms over her knees, frowning. Why was she sitting next to an ugly puddle? She sloshed it, wrinkling her nose when her fingers brushed some slimy stones.

The witch lady held something in her hands. Her…heart? It was glowing. Strange. A nagging in the back of Cora's mind told her that she needed that heart. That is was necessary. She ignored it. She was breathing, wasn't she? Why was a heart necessary if she was breathing? She cocked her head. It was puzzling.

Her Mama was still struggling midair, she realized. Cora poked the stones again, wrinkling her nose. This place was icky, why did they live here? Why didn't live at the castle?

"Cora! Cora baby, my sweet girl, what has she done ta you? That's 'er heart ya witch! Give it back!" Her Mama was shrieking again. It was really quite annoying.

"I'm fine Mama, can't you see? I'm completely fine." She spoke in low tones, unable to understand why everyone was shrieking.

"See dear, she's fine." The purple shadow tightened. "The debt has been repaid. However if you keep struggling like that, you're not going to be."

Mama kept a face of determination and desperation, even as she struggled against the bonds. "I don' flaming care about the debt! Take me, give my chil'd back 'er heart and take me instead! Take me!" With a final shriek, a sickening snap resounded in the dark alley. A nearby owl hooted in response. Mama lay broken on the cobblestones, not moving at all.

Cora didn't flinch.

Should she have? She poked her Mama's face. Nothing. A slight fear gripped her. Why didn't she feel? This was all-

"And that was why, child, love is a weakness. She could still be alive right now, dear. A waste. Love only consumes you, leaves you with nothing substantial. Never able to move forward." The witch lady smiled again and patted Cora's cheek. "I've done you good deed, child."

Cora nodded, absorbing. This made sense. Not feeling meant she didn't have to be sad about Mama. It meant she didn't have to stay with the ugly stones and puddles and creaky floors and leaky roofs. She could go to the palace, and be a queen. She didn't have to care about her Mama.

It made sense.

"Good day, child. Find success, for now you have it in you."

Cora nodded, and without another word, exited the dark alley. Leaving her Mama's body. She didn't need it anymore. And the stones still glistening, and the cat starting to meow.

She didn't need any of them