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In which Sophie makes her peace with the Witch of the Waste
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In the land of Ingary, where witches and wizards have powers such as turning people into old women and mixing up people’s bodies really exist, a moving castle floated over the many towns of Ingary. Sometimes it was in the north, sometimes in the west, sometimes in the east and sometimes the south. It could even be northwest, southeast and every direction you could think of. You could look over your shoulder and there it would be, steaming out awful black smoke out of its awful black turrets.

This infamous castle belonged to the Wizard Howl, the now newly appointed Royal Wizard, and one of the most powerful wizards in Ingary. He had been known to have a terrible reputation. It was once said that he would snatch up pretty girls and suck out their souls or some said he'd eat their hearts. Of course, the heart eating part was in a way true. In truth, Howl would court many pretty girls, hooking them with his dashing looks and charming smile. He would always do this, at least until the girl fell in love with him, then he couldn't be bothered. The heartless thing was this: after they fell in love with him, he’d get bored with them since courting them wasn’t much fun anymore. Heartless Howl, that was horrible Howl!

Of course, horrible Howl didn’t live alone in this ugly moving castle. Along side him lived his apprentice, fifteen-year-old Michael Fisher, and Calcifer, a fire demon. This demon was once a falling star who was rescued by Howl when he fell from the sky and Howl pitied him, as he was so scared dying. They entered into a contract in which Howl was forced to give his heart to Calcifer. Of course, like most contracts, there was always a catch hidden in the small print. Harmony didn't reign for long. Both of them were slowly but surely going to the bad, and the outlook was far from bright for either of them. They were turning into a male re-make of the Witch of the Waste and her fire demon, Lily Angorian.

Things would probably have gone down hill from there had it not been for the fourth resident of the moving castle, in the shape of an old woman, matching in uninvited one night in May. It was more right to say shape seeing as it wasn't really her shape. This old woman, who was not only too energetic of a ninety-year-old woman, wasn’t a ninety-year-old woman at all. She was an eighteen-year-old girl. In fact she was a rather beautiful eighteen-year-old young girl who, just like Howl, had been cursed by the Witch of the Waste, who had become jealous of her magical skills and rudeness. As a result she made the young girl an old woman.

But the Witch’s curse on Howl isn’t important to this story. One thing that is important to the story is that the following had happened in the course of one day previous to the day this story begins: the Witch was dead; her fire demon was dead; Howl and Calcifer’s contract was broken, and Sophie's curse was lifted.

This rather strange story starts the day after the Witch’s death.

The moving castle that floated along the different towns and cities of Ingary, the residence of the castle all slept till late for it was only twelve hours ago that the Witch of the Waste had been defeated and her fire demon destroyed. Everyone within the ugly, steaming castle slept. At least all except one; the only girl and if you may, lady-of-the-house, eighteen-year-old Sophie. Eighteen, she was finally eighteen again and she was proud of it. She couldn't sleep from her excitement. All night she had stayed up. She could do nothing but feel at her velvet soft skin and feeling at her now, not long nose, but perfect nose. She kept pulling large strands of her hair, bringing it close to her face and looking at it. She couldn't get over the thrill of being herself again. It was as if she feared that it would all turn out to be a dream, and that maybe she’d wake up and find herself an old woman. Sophie had to pinch herself a few times to make sure. She did so till her lovely pale hand was slightly red and marked from her nails digging into them.

“I really am Sophie,” she said with a thrilled smile, “Young Sophie.”

Only managing to get an hour or so of sleep Sophie was up at the crack of dawn. She couldn't sleep now, not when she could move so quickly, now she could run and do all the things she couldn’t do as an old woman. She never took advantage of being young woman, she just resigned herself to growing old in a hate shop. Then when the Witch took her youth, Sophie realised just how short youth was. Now, she was out to make the most of it.

Sophie slipped on her horrible grey dress. It was the only dress she had. Once she was dressed she saw that Calcifer was still asleep, fizzing and sizzling as if he was snoring under the logs. She smiled and opened the door purple knob down, deciding to go out into the place of flowers to watch the sun come up. She stepped out and breathed in the warmth. It made her feel weak at the knees. The smell seemed to be sweeter than before. The warm winds brushed Sophie’s skin and played with her lovely locks of red hair. Settling down on some hard ground, she watched the sun rise over the long, long desert of the wastes.

The sun seemed to come up very quickly. Maybe it was because Sophie was enjoying herself. She had never come to appreciate little things like the sun or the fact that she was quite an attractive girl. That moment when the scarecrow tried to get in the castle and she thought for a moment she was going to die made her reflect on her life. She had always seen things like the sun, the moon, the sky, all the minor things in life that people take for granted.

As for her looks, had she taken them seriously they would probably help her find a husband. Then she’d always remember that she was the eldest of three, which in the strange world made you the most ugly, most useless sister out of all of your siblings. Of course, no one ever saw Sophie as anything-other than ‘Sophie Hatter’ the eldest daughter of Mr. Hatter.

So many things tossed in Sophie’s head as she grew up, she knew she was useless and would have a fairly boring life, maybe she'd manage to get a respectable husband but he’d be nothing much even if she managed that. If anything, she’d be the one to upgrade him, she was well to do and very talented with making clothes and hats. She had more talents than her younger sisters Lettie and Martha did when it came to the business. Of course, they had talents in other ways. For example, Lettie was considered the most beautiful and witchier than the other two. But even that was over shadowed by Sophie's talent of talking life into things, and no one had realised just how beautiful Sophie was until they saw the change from old to young. She might have been Lettie's fair twin.

All of this and more flashed in Sophie’s mind as her hair blew across her face. She didn't care about her looks, or anything like that, she was just happy to be her again. To be Sophie Hatter.

Sophie looked out to the steaming wastes, its heat blowing at her fair and making it blush. She remembered how sorry she had felt for the Witch for having to live there. ‘I do, in a way feel sorry for her’ Sophie thought. Just because of her home didn't seem a good enough reason, though. After all this was the same old witch that had turned her into an old woman, planned to kill both her and Howl, and made a jigsaw of Ben Suliman and Prince Justin. Only a fool would give that wicked creature pity. But then again, Sophie thought, she was old and some old women went a bit mad in the head. Anyone, over 100 years old would, wouldn’t they?

Looking to her side, she noticed some beautiful flowers blooming at the end. She recalled that Howl had told her the Wicth of the Waste had objected to these flowers because she liked to think of herself as a flower blooming in the Wastes. Without thinking about it Sophie cut a flower with large red petals. It was one of her flowers, the sort no one else could find. Getting to her feet, she walked over to the edge, just where the the ground was beginning to crumble. Standing in silence for a moment before she began to talk to the flower, twisting it in her fingers as she spoke.

“Witch of the Waste,” said Sophie, as if she was talking to the Witch, not a flower. “I know that you have never really done me, or anyone that much good. You always caused trouble for everyone and did so for over fifty years. But inspite of it all I imagine that, though it hadn’t been yours for many years, you had a heart once. What I mean is this; Howl gave his heart to Calcifer because he felt sorry for him. You must have felt sorry for Miss Angorian, or whatever her name is. You must have once been a good woman, once. Probably had a plan to just live out your life like most witches do. Though I’m not that sure what it is like…”

Sophie found herself babbling things that probably didn’t matter. “Witch, I imagine you went to the bad because of that fire demon, not your own desire, and now you're dead you can go to wherever it is the dead go to.” She raised the flower to her lips and whispered very secretly, “Rest in peace, Witch of the Waste.”

Fianlly, she tossed the flower into the hot wind that blew into the wastes. The wing crashed it into the burning, cracked sand. Just touching it seemed to wilt the flower. The wind dragged the dainty, beautiful flower across the mushy clay of the wastes. The flower itself, not only wilted, but all its petals fell off. That was the last sight Sophie saw of the flower until it disappeared into the distance.

It was sad, this gesture was almost a metaphor for the Witch of the Waste's life. Sophie believed that the flower not only suited this peace making but it represented the Witch perfectly. After she gave her heart away, she became what some would call 'evil' and very slowly went mad. Now, somewhere out there, she lay unburried. Just a heap at bones.

The castle door was open, and standing at it was Wizard Howl. Peacefully he watched her settle down on the grass again and look out into the wastes, watching the nonthingness, unaware she was being watched. He shook his head and just looked at Sophie. He was tempted to go out to her and play a key part in this emotional, peace-making action. But he didn't dare. Instead, he just closed the door and made his way towards the grate, which at first, he thought it was empty.

Howl sat down in front of it and sighed, “Only Sophie would try and make peace with the Witch of the Waste! She's too nice. Too nice for her own good.”

“The Witch is dead,” said the grate. Howl looked up with no shock, and saw a familiar blue pointed face suddenly appear and look at him with his orange eyes. “Sophie is trying to do things her own way. It was a touching speech she made too. Even used a flower."

Howl nodded and groaned, suddenly bursting out his confusion with her, “She really is too nice, and too clever. But she’s got a temper, she’s an air-head, she’s horrible when she snorts and she has her own way of doing things that brings total chaos to people and it doesn’t make sense!”

Calcifer sizzled and crackled, “She is a woman. I’ve never met a female fire demon who wasn’t more evil than good but I can say this; females don’t make sense."

But Howl wasn’t listening; he was looking at the door, obviously waiting for Sophie to come in.

Calcifer spat and laughed, “But she makes a lot more sense then you, heart-full Howl!”

“Heart-full Howl?”

He had never been called that before. Heartless Howl, horrible Howl, and a few very insulting names used by the fathers of the women whose hearts he had broken. But never heart-full.

“Why do you call me that, old blue face?" Howl asked, "Why aren't you planning to enjoy your freedom now it's here?" It was obvious that he was slivering out of the heart-full Howl comment, as it was leading somewhere he’d rather not go.

"I have another thousand years to do all that," Calcifer reminded him with a huge purple grin. “Besides,it was raining in Market Chipping again, so I thought about going out near the flowers - which I didn’t get sparks on by the way. What is it with Sophie and flowers?” Howl just shrugged as Calcifer went on, “… and who should I see but the newly restored to young girl Sophie, sending blessings to the Witch of the Waste! Then I saw she wasn’t alone. Off near the castle door did I see heart-full Howl looking out on her, day dreaming, musing, pining, yearning for her. And you call her an air-head, you were in your own world! Two of a kind.”

Howl was taken aback, “I never daydream,” he said proudly. “Never had the need to. I always have everything I need in reality.”

“Everything except a woman true, and fair!” Calcifer said pointing out of the grate. It was clear to Howl that Calcifer was going to start teasing him, “It's obvious you want Sophie to fill that. You have to make you feelings clear to her, you know."

Howl was looking pale, and almost as pale as milk that was standing out on the table. Curse that Sophie, he thought weakly, what is she doing to me. Slowly, he regained his dignity and went on, trying too hard to hide what he was thinking.

“Sophie?” he said quietly but proudly. “Why her of all the women in the world? There are plenty of young women out there with a nicer temper, clever and just as pretty!”

“Well, for one,” Calcifer began. “There was that song and dance you went about yesterday saying that the two of you should live happily ever after together. Then there was the fact that I had your heart and I could tell that you were ‘digging’ her even before you knew she was that girl on May Day. Then when you found out about her you never wanted her to leave the castle. You hid the boots and everything, didn't you? It wasn’t always for her safety, but to make sure she wouldn’t leave you!”

Howl didn’t deny it, for that would be lying. But all he did was try to point out about his other reasons, “She was following me, plus, you know how her heart was misbehaving. It would be horrible for an eighteen-year-old girl to die from a heart attack! I can’t help that I’m a caring person. I didn’t want her heart breaking…”

“Almost as much as your heart when you’re near her, huh?” Calcifer nodded his pointed form and gave Howl the ‘don’t give me that junk’ bit. “Well, what else? You had a go at me for not telling you sooner about her (that time when she and Michael went out to catch that star). Then when she came back you targeted your anger at her!” he then sizzled a bit. “It was at this point I knew your were falling, hook, line and sinker.”

Howl glared at him.

"Don't worry she was no better what with using that scarecrow as an excuse not to leave the castle..."

"Really?" Howl said keenly, before stopping. “Er.. I mean - how would you know? You’re not a human, you don’t understand human attraction. Even if she was young whose's to say she wouldn't be a Jane Farrier in disguise?” he asked.

He wasn’t about to admit to his fire demon that it was right.

“I may not understand how human attraction works, but I can tell you're attracted. Hell, she’s not even my species and I was attracted! One because of your heart and two cause of her strange magic!” Calcifer said, answering Howl’s first statement. “And there is such thing as loving someone for who they are inside, and not what they look like. Even before you knew she was young, I knew you were attracted. I could tell that scared you a little so you ended up having a go at her and looking for ‘new sport’, which is very like you I must admit!”

Howl blushed slightly and gave a slight grump. He didn’t like Calcifer when he was pointing out the facts. He also didn’t like it when he blushed; it made him feel stupid.

“I felt sorry for Sophie too, you know. Then you messed about with her, flashing her your smile but all she ever did was be nice to you and scowled you, but then she puts up with your faults. Then you made those ridiculous attempts at making her jealous with the old fire demon, and her sister. I mean the fire demon was a genuine attempt to keep out of here, and Sophie was good at it, but her own sister. You just did that make yourself feel good.”

Howl sighed. That was true no matter how much he denied it. He had spent most of Sophie’s time at the castle trying to give her mixed signals and trying to whined her up, make her jealous. Though, had he been doing it since even Lettie Hatter? If what Calcifer said was true then he had turned on the charm even before he even noticed. That had never happened before.

“And while we’re on the subject of May Day,” Calcifer suddenly started again.

“When did we get onto the subject of May Day?” Howl snapped back at the fire, "aren't you done yet?"

“No” Calcifer said shortly, fizzing happily. “I remember last May Day when you came back early and said you had met one of the most beautiful girls you had ever seen. It was a shock to find out you didn’t even know who she was or what her name was. A week later it turns out she’s disappeared off the face of the Earth!"

Howl kept glaring, his mind wondering how he could sliver out of this, as Calcifer went on with his trip down memory lane. "Suddenly, you find a young girl who looks similar to her, Sophie's sister Lettie.”

Calcifer looked at his former master and shook his head, “I never thought I’d see you look like this. You’ve always been love sick but, my goodness. You went out without getting ready first and you risked your life by rushing off to the wastes to save Sophie. You would never have done that for any woman, and even if you did, you’d have made her wait while you got ready in the bathroom! You’re faulted and she’s faulted, but neither of you care. Face it Howl, you’re a perfect match!”

Howl felt his heart make a thud as Calcifer finished, and if felt so strange. He hadn’t felt like ever before in his life. A strange feeling went though him, made his legs shake, and his heart thud even harder. Despite how annoying Sophie could be with her cleaning, her snorting and her mood swings that could kill, Howl found himself not caring, and thinking how much he’d hate it if she were any other way. And despite all of his faults, Sophie seemed to put up with and sometimes not even notice them.

It was very exciting! Was this love true, for keeps, forever and ever? He had never cared so much about someone this much or for so long. Sophie had more or less admitted her feelings for Howl, despite her being strong minded and trying to protest at first. And Howl’s feelings for her were still there. Never had he loved someone past their admitting their love for him, and never had he for one second thought he’d put someone else’s life above his own. He was a coward; he’d sell out his own mother to save himself, but not Sophie, never Sophie, she was far too good to be used to save his petty life.

She was the same. When she thought Miss Angorian was a real person and the one who Howl loved, she had gone to the wastes, not for her own sake, or the sake of that demon but for Howl’s sake. She did it from fear that he’d end up getting killed. Never had anyone been that caring of him before. She had valued his life above her own, and why did she do that? Because she must really, truly love him!

This thought seemed to echo through Howl’s head and his excitement at such a discovery amazed him. He almost wanted to run out there to the wastes, grab her, and swing her around and around. She was the one who took his heart and placed it back inside his chest. My heart was literally in her hands, he thought, and she cared for it as if it were a little bird. She had held it with care and love for the person it belonged to.

“Listen!” began Calcifer, but before he could go on the door opened and Sophie came in carrying a bunch of flowers.

She swept past Howl and acted as if he wasn’t there. All of these cheerful thoughts seemed to die away into a scream of panic. Was she angry at him? He just watched her helplessly as she walked around the room, sweeping past him, putting the flowers into a vase and arranging them prettily.

He had to break the silence, “Good morning to you too.”

Sophie said nothing, other than a slight, ‘Hmmm?’ He followed her around the room ending with Sophie turning around and finally facing him. Howl scanned it slightly. She didn’t seem to be giving any reason for acting this way. Her eyes just looked straight into his before she finally broke with a simple smile: “We never say ‘good morning’ to each other." She then slipped past Howl and un-hooked the frying pan. She just stood facing Calcifer, “Head down Calcifer."

His head bent down and made the eggs sizzle in the pan. Howl then saw that Sophie was wearing that horrible, ugly, ugly, ugly for a thousand times ugly, very un-suited grey dress of hers.

It’s far too ugly, thought Howl, For such a pretty face. Howl thought this as he sat and watched her cooking. He was admiring the face that he had not yet truly taken into account yet. Even through the hidiousness of the grey dress, he was able to pick out her beautiful features. Sophie’s face was very different to that of the old woman, though you could still tell they could have been the same person. The main thing that he noticed was that Sophie’s nose wasn’t really long at all. It was actually quite a small nose, a pale one that matched up with the rest of her face. Her complexion was very fair and her cheeks were naturally a shade of pink. Her lips were pink too, not large and red like her sister Lettie, but Sophie was much more attractive. Sophie had a natural beauty that countered every other woman he had ever met. Half of them had been covered in make-up. Sophie hadn’t done anything with herself having just woken up. Yet she was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

Sophie had a heart-shaped face. Her best feature, in Howl’s opinion, her long ginger, no, strawberry-blond hair, looking soft and beautiful even though she hadn’t brushed it. Her neck wasn’t long nor was it little. It was just perfect. When he tried to look further down her, three things happened. One, he found that the ugly grey dress was shapeless didn’t allow him to look any further down her torso. Two, he began to realise he was stepping beyond the point as acceptable and started to look away but not in time for three, Sophie had noticed him looking at her and interrupted him.

“What on earth are you doing?” Sophie asked, she didn’t seem angry or upset but more confused, blushing and suddenly feeling very weary of the way she looked.

Howl felt a little guilty about startling her and didn’t really know how to explain that he was only admiring her loveliness. He certainly wasn’t one of those sorts of men, and he doubted Sophie thought he was, but he still worried. Then he realised there wasn’t a way to tell her why he was looking, so he just told her the truth. “Just viewing a vision of beauty,” he flashed her a charming smile at her. He then made his hurt and sad look, “I hope I’m not causing any offence, cariad.”

Sophie’s face blushed even more when she heard the term cariad. She had heard him use it many times and had quickly picked up that that one word of Welsh, a tongue she knew very little about, meant 'sweetheart'. She hugged her arms around herself tighter, not wondering what to make of this. She’d never been in a situation where Howl, or any man for that matter, had taken the time out of their larger ego to look at her. Lettie and sometimes Martha normally over shadowed her. As an old woman however, she never had to worry about Howl looking at her, as she had not been a pretty picture to look at; she had been shrivelled. Now she was young again, though she was thrilled to be eighteen again, it had not yet occurred to her that her sudden change of appearance might have an effect on Howl.

Fanny had asked Sophie to come and live with her as “a pretty young girl living with a man she is not married to doesn’t look good. People are bound to start talking. If he doesn’t ask you to marry him properly soon, I’ll have to order you to come and live with me. I'll have no stepdaughter of mine turned into a joke by any man, particularly Wizard Howl!”

Sophie tried to ignore Howl, who had thankfully stopped staring at her and seemed to be shamefully looking in the other direction.

During all of this, Calcifer had been close to pushing his head up from all his trying not to laugh. Sophie got back to the cooking and Howl was too busy thinking about that horrible grey dress she was wearing. He thought about asking Sophie if she was thinking of getting a new one. If she did, then she could finally get rid of that ugly thing. In the end he just stood there starring at her again, while Michael came in looking cheerful as always. It seemed like he had had the best sleep in the house. As he came in he noticed Howl staring at Sophie. He tried to ignore it and turned his attention to Sophie.

It turned out Sophie wasn’t the only one who recalled last night. Frankly, she had been surprised Howl hadn’t brought it up yet. He didn’t drink that much so he must have some memory. The again, maybe he didn’t want to remember or wasn’t thinking straight. He had hit his head after all. Sophie was worried their happily ever after was the words of a man with a large bump on his head who didn't know what he was agreeing to.

Michael broke the tension with his lighthearted attitude. “Sophie?” he said walking towards her. “I didn’t think you’d still be here. I thought you’d gone with your stepmother last night. Are you still thinking about going to live with your stepmother and Mr. Smith, only Martha said that--”

Howl finally snapped out of his trace. Sophie? Leaving? Would she do that? Was that why she was so quiet this morning? Was she really considering leaving the castle? He finally spoke up, “You’re not really thinking about it are you?”

Sophie turned around looking a little flushed. She didn’t want to leave, she had made every excuse in the book to not leave, with the scarecrow. But she remembered what Fanny had said: ‘If nothing is announced with you and Howl, then come and live with me. Mr Smith and I would be so happy to have you. He and his family are just dying to meet you.' That was ringing in Sophie’s head. She pulled the pan off the grate and as she slipped it all onto plates.

“Well” Sophie began, “I’d be lying if I said wasn’t thinking about it. But I’m too settled here, so I’ll only leave if I get in your way. I hope that’s okay.”

She said this as if she was trying her best to convince herself she wasn't considering it. It was true though, Sophie was too settled and would find it very painful to leave, and she knew that Mrs. Fairfax would be heart broken. She had her heart set on Sophie and Howl getting married.

That thought made Sophie blush again.

Oh confound it, she thought, Leaving the castle would be like running away anyway. And I won’t run away from a good chance. Not in the way Mrs Fairfax wants though. No, I could be more use around this place than their maid. After all, if my gift of magic is worth looking into, I’d be much better off as Howl’s apprentice like Michael is. Yes, the spells he has done with Michael look simple enough to learn. It's just those scribbles that might prove a problem.

Once the food was on the plates and on the table, they all sad down. Howl pushed Michael out of his normal seat next Sophie and took it himself. Sophie was so lost in her own thoughts that she didn’t really take any note to any of this, but didn’t dare look Howl in the eyes. Both kept their eyes on the plate, making it awkward for both them and Michael. What did he mean? Sophie thought, daring to glance at Howl. What does ‘we ought to live happily ever after’ mean? Could it be that he--

As if an angel had offered her a way out the silence was broken by a knock at the door. Calcifer flared up and boomed: “Mansion door!” Eager to escape her musing, Sophie stood up and rushed towards that door. Opening on the door on the masion, she saw a pageboy standing there. It almost gave Sophie a scare as she remembered the Witch's pageboys, but this one was very smartly dressed in blue, similar to what Howl had made Michael wear that day in Kingsbury, and he scented of fresh oranges similar to one of Howl's many scents when he emerged from the bathroom. The boy bowed politely and said in a clear voice, “Miss Sophie Hatter?”

“This is she,” Sophie said nodding her head politely back. Before she knew what was happened, the pageboy shoved a large box into her hands. It was white with a large red ribbon on the top, rather flat and long. Sophie put the box to one side of the doorframe and smiled at the boy. “May I ask who sent this, please?” she asked politely.

“Err... A Mr and Mrs. Sacheverell Smith” the pageboy replied, looking down at a piece of paper awkwardly. So it’s from Fanny then? Sophie thought to herself. She was just about to say her goodbyes and close the door when he stopped her by putting his hand in the doorway. He was holding a card on it. “Oh, and from the other Mr. Smith, too.”

The pageboy handed Sophie the card and she took it, reading her own name written in a beautiful hand. “The other, Mr. Smith?” she repeated, “Who is he?”

“The older Mr. Sacheverell Smith’s nephew,” the pageboy said, he then bowed and took off down the drive.

Sophie closed the door, not noticing Howl hovering right behind her. When she turned around it gave her quite a shock. He just turned on his smile and said, “Who was it?”

Sophie picked up her box and walked towards her cubby under the stairs, “Just a pageboy, bringing something for me from my stepmother. Strange she didn’t drop it round herself, she’s only around the corner” she pulled away the hanging curtain covering the cubby and put the box on her 'bed’. She still had the card in her hand; she was going to open it as she saw Howl’s eyes lowered to her face level looking at her. “This card is from all three of them, if you want to know!” Sophie exclaimed she then put the card in with the box and pulled the curtain over it. She turned to face Howl, “And you call me ‘Mrs. Nose!”

Howl just looked at her, then gave her the same look he had the day before Midsummer’s day. The one that Sophie thought was put on, Howl could pretend to be miserable in heaven if it suited him, remember. “I was just asking in general, you were at the door for a while, it is my castle remember” Howl pointed out. “Also, when you ask, you are just being plain nosy, Miss Nose”. Sophie then admitted that Howl look a little taken aback, but then again, anything that ‘wasn’t nice’ always took him aback. Sophie felt like fighting with Howl, it gave her pleasure to see him trying to keep his temper in… He almost never really blew his top, but Sophie loved the thrill of fighting with him. She didn’t know why, but secretly, she loved it because Howl took all his attention on her, and nothing else. Sophie loved being in Howl’s lime light, where he could see her.

“You want me to open it now?” Sophie snapped, “Is that what you want? Just to make sure there isn’t a bomb in it or something?” Howl said nothing this obviously meant he did. Sophie walk annoyed to her room again and pulled out the box and card out. “Okay, since we’re worried there’s a ‘bomb’ in it… I’ll open it in the kitchen for Michael and Calcifer to see too, shall I?” Sophie said sarcastically. She walked into the kitchen and placed the box on the table.

“Are you opening it now?” Michael asked looking at the box and Sophie back and fourth.

“Yes. Howl’s worried that someone stuck something exposable in here” Sophie said pulling a red ribbon away from it. “Why are you worried Howl? Scared one of the old girlfriends caught up with you?” Howl was about to take that aback too, seeing as Sophie had no reason to be mad. But when he saw her smile slightly at her quote, Howl realised she was only ‘teasing’ him, trying to whined him up. He found himself smile in spite of himself.

When Sophie finally pulled away the ribbon and opened the box, it wasn’t a bomb or anything like that. Of course, why would Fanny send Sophie something so stupid? No, it was a new dress. It was a sort of dark red and it had a white under dress to go with it. It was very nice. Sophie had never owned a nice dress ever in her whole life, only grey, brown and black ones. Sophie looked at it and then shot them all a smile, “Doesn’t look like a bomb to me!”

Michael handed Sophie the card that came with it, “Read the card, Sophie”. Sophie took the card and read it out loud, that way, she wouldn’t have Howl hovering over her shoulder wondering what he’s missing out on. She cleared her throat and read:

Dearest Sophie,

I noticed that your grey dress was starting to fall a part and now you have your own shape again, I think you should have a nicer dress. Sacheverell, his nephew and I have decided to give you this new dress to replace the grey one.

Please come and see me soon, love. I’d love to see how the dress looks on you.

All my love, Fanny.”

Sophie was about to put the card down when Howl stepped in and pointed to the back of the card, “There’s a P.S., there” he said. Sophie flipped it over a read that to herself…

P.S., (From Alan) Your stepmother showed me that picture of you and your sisters standing outside the old hat shop. That wizard was right. Grey doesn’t suit you. Red is much better!’ Sophie looked at this, and wondered if ‘Alan’ was Sacheverell’s nephew.

"That Wizard!" said a sulky voice from Howl. Sophie looked away from the card only then realising that Howl’s face was right up against her cheek, “Who’s Alan?” he demanded curiously. Sophie moved away with the card in her hand and the dress over her arm.

“I don’t know” she said. “He must be Mr. Smith’s nephew." Sophie then put the card away by placing it in her dress as some women did. “Why are you so curious?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. For a brief moment she mused on the possibility that Howl was becoming ‘possessive’ of her. She didn't let herself think about it for long as she remembered that this was Howl she was talking about. He couldn't see past the end of his own nose and you couldn't pin himself down to anything. Sophie looked at Howl as she cleaned the plates away. Howl watched her carefully as she spoke again, “Don’t bother to answer that. You must be in a nosy mood today, eh?”

Howl grinned at her, “I was wondering what it was like to be you. It is really quite fun, Miss Nose.” Sophie really wasn’t in the mood that morning for Howl to start teasing her. When she was an old woman she was always up of Howl and his big head. It dawned on Howl that now Sophie was young again, her nose wasn’t especially big. In fact, it was a very pretty nose. He thought it was nicer than Lettie’s nose. “I guess you don’t have to have a big nose to be nosy, am I right Sophie?” Howl added watching her go back and forth from the table to the sink. Michael stood close to Calcifer, watching. “What are you doing, woman?”

Sophie snorted and turned her back on Howl, she wasn’t in the mood for his childish attitude. “I’m going back to my hole under the stairs” she said sarcastically, leaving the plates in the sink and gathering up the dress and card again. She walked to her under-the-stairs cupboard and slammed the door so hard it made the whole castle shake, just to show Howl that she was cross. Then, maybe, he might feel a little guilty. “Oh and by the way!” Sophie called out; Howl turned to face to the door. “Brush your hair, it looks like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, kicking and screaming!”

Now this, was a sentence that Sophie, Michael or Calcifer never thought they’d hear be said to Howl. He always tried to look his best, but since everyone had found out who Sophie really was, Howl had stopped really caring what he looked like. He hadn’t brushed his hair for 48 hours.

Michael was puzzled by that fact himself, so he just stood there looking quiet. “And that’s another thing” Calcifer started up again, “I bet you haven’t even noticed that you look like a tiger tried to kill you and you just made a narrow escape!” How didn’t say anything, he just walked into the bathroom, where he would stay for 20 minutes.


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‘Howl's Moving Castle’ 1986-2008, Diana Wynne Jones. 'Hauru no ugoku shiro' AKA 'Howl's Moving Castle' 2004-2008 Hayao Miyazaki, Ghibli Studios. Text/Website Sophie Withall, 2004-2008. Based upon Diana Wynne Jones' novel ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ and Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli animated film 'Hauru no ugoku shiro'. Layout Tripod. All characters are entirely fictional. 

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