The castle corridors are empty, silent. I head back up towards what seems to be the main room. There, light filters through the walls and doors, casting an eerie glow.

The door is partially open, and I push through. The room is burning with candles, but empty. Across the other side I notice a door I've not seen before. It seems as though it should lead right through the walls of the castle into thin air.

The balcony, unlike the room, is not empty. There, leaning on the ice railing, staring out into the darkness, is the Queen.

In the distance, long clouds of light dance across the sky.

"What is that?" I ask.

"The lights? The trolls believe it's the souls of their dead, dancing." I, too, lean on the railings. The cold and damp quickly starts to leach through the material of my sleeves, but I make no move to pull away.

"But what is it, really?"

"Magic, Princess. Pure, ancient magic. Of the kind that made the world, and that keeps it together."

"It's beautiful."

"It is." We stand for a while, in silence, watching the show being played out above our heads. The air is cold, freezing, and our breaths billow out from us. I've got too used to the artificial warmth of the castle, and shiver violently.

"You're cold," the Queen says, and reaches out her hand to my arm. I flinch away, but she isn't put off, reaching for me again. Where her hand touches me, warmth spreads from her fingers up my arm. "The Huntsman is not Henry's father."

"But he is your lover." The warmth from her hand flares, uncontrolled, almost burning through my clothes.

"He was." Her voice is tight, strained. "Once."

"Not any more?"

"Not for a long time." I shift, moving closer to her, to her warmth. That's all it is, I remind myself sternly. The natural desire to share another person's warmth. It has nothing to do with whose warmth it is. Not at all.

"No?" She laughs, lightly, exasperated.

"Not since before Henry." I shiver again, despite the warmth still seeping from her hand. She pulls me closer, pressing my back against her front, and wraps her cloak around the both of us. Given how angry I've been, I should definitely protest, rip myself away from her. I don't. I lean back against the solid heat of her, my head resting on her shoulder, and together we stare out into the night. I wait, assessing how likely I am to be thrown off the balcony for asking the wrong question. On one hand, she could have killed me any time.

On the other, my childhood training screams at me: never underestimate a witch.

"So why now, really? Why come back right now?" She sighs, wrapping her arms tighter around my waist. At least, I think, if I'm going off the balcony, she's clearly coming too.

"I've been back before, you know," she says. "The Huntsman and I had been in the other land for almost 20 years. I thought things had changed. I thought I had changed."

"And you hadn't?"

"No. Turned out I hadn't. I disguised myself, and went down to the Enchanted Forest. There was a masquerade ball in the castle that night, easy to slip in unnoticed." I remember the evening well: my first public outing since I gave away William. My mother had thrown me at eligible guests, desperate to have me respectable, an unflinching smile plastered right across her face. "And there, right in the middle of the ballroom, the perfect, happy family. Snow, Charming, and their perfect, happy Princess. I hated it. Hated her happiness, hated that she had this family to be proud of and smile at, when I had nothing but work in a world that wasn't my home."

She pauses for a moment, hand tightening on my arms, and sucks in a breath of the cold air, sending it whistling past my ear. When she speaks again her tone is softer, happier.

"I'd given up on revenge, but I hadn't replaced it with anything. My life was so empty, and that's when I realised it, seeing you at that ball."

"I wasn't perfect," I say, twisting in her arms, "and I wasn't happy that night. I was miserable, in disgrace. You needn't have envied me." She smiles, sadly.

"But I did. Henry changed all that though, not long after. And you? Are you happier now?"

"I have been, Regina, these past few weeks. Despite the snow and the cold and being in both my mother and Mulan's bad books." We stand in silence, watching the lights in the sky. Eventually they fade, their colour washed out by the oncoming dawn.

"Come on," she says. "Breakfast now. And we'll discuss what you're mother's council wishes to know." At the doorway she stops, and half turns back to me. "And the other thing, about my son. I will tell you, one day. But there's no-one you need worry about, believe me."

Strangely, as I take her hand and follow her into her castle of ice, I do.

xxx