She was called a Femme Fatale, which was a remarkably exact, if misleading, description. She did not seduce men. She killed them. She also happened to be the princess's lady-in-waiting, another exactly deceptive title. She was a lady and she waited. Mostly in the shadows, for danger to appear.
In other words, Katherine was a guard on stiletto heels - and if you believed at least that to be less than literal in meaning, you would be in a world of trouble. For there was nothing metaphorical whatsoever in Katherine. It had been said that her hair was as dark as a raven's plumage - and once she had compared it to find that it was of that precise nuance as well. Men had told her that her eyes shone like stars, which she'd tested by looking into a lake at night - and seeing her hair as a patch of darkness and her eyes exactly like two stars. Her lovers had said her lips were honey-sweet and she had confessed to eating more honey than she should have. So the fact that she was called a guard on stiletto heels meant that you should beware - although blunted by walking, those heels could still pierce through a man's chest.
At the moment she was listening to the princess with a schooled expression. Katherine was not especially interested in what Bellatrix had to say, because it contained much poetry and philosophy. But the bedridden woman needed her audience - and her faithful guard was, what else? faithful and willing to oblige. Katherine was literally the only one who would listen these days. Locked up in her tower, hidden away behind bars, sick and lonely, the princess looked pitifully weak.
"Indeed, I shall die," Bella murmured. "It is a fate that neither you, nor I can hold back. And they'll place me in my bridal gown and say I am God's bride. There are worse men to be married to, I suppose. If I were a worthier woman than I am, I would say that there is none better."
"Must you die?" Katherine asked. She couldn't see a reason why a cure couldn't be found. Surely, with some help from Bellatrix's father's vaults of gold...
"Yes. Indeed I must. I am sure of that. Do I not look it, dear? My cheeks are hollowed, my skin is pale. Look at my hands!" She rose one, studying it almost with wonder. "How thin I have grown! I shall become a ghost before I give my last breath and pass through the bars on my cell, float down the stairs carried by a single gust of wind."
Katherine did not venture to say that no man could float while still alive, no matter how light, although it might have amused Bella, who found her literal-mindedness charming. She did not explain that it was hardly possible for the princess to get up and leave in her state, which would have made her bow her head in resignation. She did not add that there was no wind, nor now, nor ever, down the stairs, since it would have depressed the princess, who liked romantic things like breezes and drafts for a reason Katherine never understood. And most of all, she did not remark that she felt helpless, which was self-evident.
"They say ideas are forever," Bella continued. "They say that they travel from one age to another. They say nothing we think, nothing we say is new, but has been thought and said before and we only echo that, each word of ours a knot bringing together old things and making them new. Perhaps it's true of us, of our souls - nothing that we feel is new, we are not new, but we are knots of what has been before, raveled and unraveled as we are born and as we die."
"I am afraid I don't quite grasp your meaning," Katherine said.
Bella opened her mouth to explain, then closed it, pondering for a long time. "I am saying that I am afraid to die," she answered, in the end. "And find comfort in pretty theories. I wave them around and try to cover my demise with them. You would never do that. You open your eyes widely, you do not fear to see the world as it is. They tell me that if I had had to work with my arms and legs, if I had played sports, I would not have harmed myself so much by thinking. That my body would have been stronger, that my mind should have been more... adequate. Why was I not a proper princess? Why am I so different from the rest of the ladies in this world?"
"I find you plenty adequate," a boy's voice was rang through her cell. "Indeed, I should find you as inadequate as I find the rest of your family if you were any different."
Bella looked up. "Those eyes!" she said, in awe. "A child!"
"So they all think," the 11 year-old with the emerald green eyes said from outside the bars. His all too serious face brightened up with a smile. "You looked for me in the wrong place, Bella dear."
"No wonder! How you have... ah... what is the antonym of 'grown'?"
"Actually," Katherine said, coolly, not very pleased at having been taken by surprise. "I would not say 'no wonder'. I, for one, am quite shocked."
"Yes, I can observe that," the boy replied. He measured Katherine up and down, considering her with the wariness he usually showed her. "Bella. Explain to me why you are locked up in a tower, with a guard to protect you."
"I fell in love with the wrong man," she answered, then gave him a rare ironic smile. "I dare say they fear you. My dearest is here to protect me."
"Are you going to attack me?" the boy asked of the guard, his penetrating gaze piercing through Katherine in a way that no 11 year-old's should be capable of doing. His assurance was not that of a cocky child, but of a minister standing tall in his seat. More precisely, of the minister that Katherine was the most familiar to, an individual whose projected assurance grew in direct proportion to his immoral deeds. Katherine could make that minister look very certain of himself, indeed. And the boy looked as certain as she could ever make the minister look.
"I was ordered to defend her against enemies and against running away with a certain grown man," she offered. "Such a small boy as you can be no threat, if he is a friend."
He slid in between the bars, possibly making them bend ever so slightly to let him through - not that they weren't spaced off before. Nobody should expect children to attack a tower, the guard thought. So they didn't bother wasting resources to make cells children-proof.
"You are indeed beyond comprehension at times," Bella said. "I do not know how you have managed to become a child again, but I can say it must be no less than a miracle. To change your appearance, that is something I can easily understand; but to be so much smaller, so much younger than what you used to be! It should not be possible."
Katherine looked between the two of them and felt the need to say that, technically, their love was now wrong on a whole different level. She abstained.
"If a thing happens, then it isn't impossible," he said decisively. "The matter was a simple one and it shall become clear once it is explained. Considering how witches are known to transform into black cats occasionally, I merely hunted down one, learned her art, then proceeded to experiment with transforming my body in accordance with the same principles, breaking down the process step by step until I was able to comprehend it well enough to determine its composing magical forces - thus allowing me to transform any part of my body in any such way as I wished. Growing younger and smaller in these circumstances is after that simply a matter of applying this process in the correct way."
Katherine nodded. She could understand that.
Bella smiled. She could recognize the charming magician who had courted her.
"By the same logic, the solution for your disease should exist. If my body can be modified, so can your own. We simply need to discover the right way to do it in the period of time given us. I believe success is well within the realm of possibility. Now, we must go. I do not like towers. Katherine, please carry her. My body is not entirely suited to the task. I assume you are as faithful to her as ever? And as willing to commit high treason for our princess?"
Katherine nodded and picked up her charge. The boy placed the blanket that had been on the bed over them. "I can make the rays of light skip on its surface and - actually, never mind. It will turn you invisible. I can explain the process later."
"I understand," the guard said, her voice sounding slightly muffled from under the blanket. "But what shall the royal family think, sir, when they find us gone?"
The boy turned towards her general direction and beamed as if he really were the age he looked. "Why, that I have had a hand in it, naturally." He turned back towards the bars, went through them, then proceeded to pick the lock. "Unless they are baffled by my use of a hairpin and believe you were spirited away by a common thief..." It clicked open and the guard, carrying Bella, walked outside. "Well. They shall be annoyed that I cannot let their daughter die in peace, I suppose. But I find no wisdom in dying, when one can live, nor one in suffering, when one can cease suffering. They call me a devil for it, but I find that I simply cannot give a damn. Escaping the escapable should be a solemn duty, not a taboo."
Bella leaned her head against Katherine's shoulder and smiled. "The year does not bring about what a single moment might," the princess murmured. "Or so they say. Dearest, you have ruined the poetry of my death, but I don't mind in the least."
They went down the tower's stairs, the boy skipping down two steps at a time in a somewhat dangerous manner. Katherine wondered if his ability to twist his body extended to un-breaking his neck. "I tend to do things like that," he acknowledged. "Now, be quiet. I haven't made you silent."
They moved out of the building, between people who did not pay mind to a single boy walking down streets, choosing the less crowded areas to pass through. He made himself nearly unnoticeable, his certain, mature manner of conduct fading away, letting him blend in more with the much more sedate other people walking next to them. Whether it was magic or not, Katherine didn't know, but it was effective nonetheless. She held Bella securely, but lightly, trying not to harm her by pressing her too hard against her chest. She had never unraveled the secret of the attraction between the two - Bella was a sweet, poetic soul; he was a direct, occasionally haughty man who was much too concerned with reality and truth. Yet contrasts, Katherine supposed, were attracted to each other.
They passed by the gates of the city. The guards paid no attention to the boy, who made exiting the most natural motion in the world. On and on they went, the boy whistling like a child would, leading them to the nearby forest. There, he jumped on a carpet and motioned for them to join him. Katherine stared.
"It flies," he explained. "Horses would have jolted Bella too much. Come on! Up!"
The guard and the princess sat on the carpet, the invisibility blanket still draped over them. When he pulled it over his own head, Katherine realized he had been able to see through it all along. Obviously. And then the boy also turned the carpet invisible. The guard decided she did not think she would much like flying.
"Here we go!"
The boy wizard took his head out from under the blanket. "Prince!" he exclaimed, with some amazement, then added in a more subdued tone. "It's the carpet, isn't it?"
"It's mighty suspicious. Lying around in the middle of the forest where no tea party can admire it. I suppose it would be my duty to challenge you to a duel for my sister." The Prince Sebastian pulled out his sword.
"I find it foolish to engage in dangerous activities without a reason that is worth the possible damage," Mark said, not overly impressed.
"I cannot allow her to fall prey to dark magic."
"None such shall be employed, I assure you."
"I don't trust you."
The wizard decided not to argue about that. "Do not be misled by my body. I have lost none of my strength. And this is all the warning you will receive."
The prince attacked nonetheless, but the emerald-eyed boy jumped away lightly, skipping here and there, calculating, not willing to act before he was certain of his gestures. Bella did not utter a cry, as Katherine had expected, but clung harder to her guard, frightened for both of them, knowing they couldn't both escape unscathed. Katherine slowly put her down.
"What are you doing?" the princess whispered. The guard didn't answer, but removed one of her stiletto-heeled boots, raised the edge of the blanket and, aiming carefully, threw it straight at the prince's thigh, where it pierced through, making him collapse to his knees in pain with a very loud groan that the women dared not call a cry, since it would be almost unmanly.
"Yes," the wizard said, looking towards Katherine with some new-found respect. "That should do it." He clambered up on the carpet, pulled the blanket back over his head and rose the carpet in the air. Katherine smiled to herself. She could live fine with Mark and Bella. After all, she had sworn to protect the princess, not to do it in any specific way the royal family wanted her to...
The prince glared at them murderously from below. He swore that he would become a wizard himself, learn how to turn into a raven, fly after them wherever they went and destroy Mark.
In fact, he eventually did just that. Or rather he just went through the first few stages of that process. He earned an apprenticeship with a witch, paying his way through training that he was unsuited for, letting his hatred and revenge rule him in such a way as to cloud his vision entirely. He learned, indeed, how to become a raven, but not how to become human again. He flew high and low, seeking the three and eventually found them, but was unable to fight them.
It took him awhile to realize that he'd just made himself an endnote in the history of the land and if he were ever to be mentioned, it would be as part of another story entirely.
Bella never found out about his sacrifice, because Mark and Katherine never stopped treating her delicately, even after she healed. Instead, when the Femme Fatale discovered the raven, which had its royal ring around a leg, she brought it to Mark, who deduced what had happened and tied him to a perch to be his personal bird of ill omen. But they would never utter a word to the princess herself, so they could, without any remorse on anybody's side, live happily ever after.