Author's notes: Aaah, I'm so stupid! I had half of the chapter written since December but then when college started again I hadn't had time to think about the story anymore… and now that I've come back for it… I notice that I DELETED THE FILE ACCIDENTALY while cleaning my folders to get more memory space… while that gives me the opportunity to write a better chapter I had to write EVERYTHING again, so I'm really sorry for making you all wait so much for the end of the story, but I hope you like this last chapter.
Disclaimer: Howl's Moving Castle doesn't belong to me. Its original version belongs to Diana Wynne Jones and the movie version belongs to Hayao Miyasaki.
Note: This story is based on Miyasaki's movie and doesn't have any connection with the original book except for some names and small details and references.
By Eiko Makimachi
Chapter 11: A new dance might begin
"A paper crane?"
Three people were looking to a red origami paper crane on the top of the book that one of them was reading. Two of them didn't even know what an origami paper crane was, but the man who was standing next to them, holding a light top hat and a cane, took the little paper bird from the book. Surprisingly, it flapped its wings as if it was alive.
"Could it be… hers?"
"It can't be. I've heard she is quite busy tutoring the next magician to replace her."
"So, maybe it's… his?"
One of the girls, the one who was reading the book nodded. "Well, he was studying some oriental magic before all this mess had started, so it could be his."
The man with the top hat let the origami crane flap its wings once more before it decided to transform back to a clean, flawless red paper with golden writing on one of its sides. What was written in such fashion made the trio hold their breaths for a while:
"It is safe now"
They had spent months in a nice house near Howl's hometown. Said house had no connections to the moving castle and no magical devices, so it was impossible for any wizard to track them down. However, on the first week after the ball, Howl, who had fled with them but remained at his castle, told them it was necessary for to continue traveling until any sign of magic cast on them wore off. Of course, as he himself was wizard he could attract some attention, but he had managed to conceal his power from other magicians for ages and he hoped he could continue being successful on that issue.
The girls had woken up one day after the ball's incident and alleged to several people, including the servants, the king and Madam Sulliman, that they believed they had fainted because they hadn't eaten well that day. That silly excuse seemed to convince everyone, even Madam Sulliman. Apparently it was common for girls and young women to practically starve before those public events to lose weight and Madam Sulliman maybe expected that as one of the side effects of the magic she had cast one them was exactly what had happened, so no one seemed suspicious of what they had done. Ironically, while Lettie could be the kind of girl who WOULD starve for that (but she didn't need to) Sophie was exactly one of the few women that always ranted about how stupid and unhealthy that method of losing weight was.
In fact, neither Howl nor Prince Justin actually knew if Sophie and Lettie were well and still with their bodies switched until they actually exited the castle and returned home. Howl made sure to check carefully that they weren't harmed and still with their bodies switched. More importantly, the wizard had noticed that none of the girls had shown any signs of behavior change. That could only mean their plan had worked, since any love spell or potion is useless when the victim is already in love with the target.
They followed their plan and they went with Sophie, who was still in Lettie's body, to Cesary's the next day. Lettie had to explain to her boss that Prince Justin had invited her and her sister for a trip, concerned about their health. The presence of the prince himself avoided any question about the subject.
"I think they need to take some fresh air from the mountains and rest, the cities have been too stressful and polluted recently. I am always worried about the safety of my dear Sophie and I could not let any harm come to her or her sister." He simply stated.
Lettie's boss had heard about what had happened on the ball and understood that his best employee's health was more important. However, he was reluctant to let her go first, until Howl, who had transformed into a girl, appeared.
"Oh, there is no need to worry, my friend Olette agreed to take my place while I am gone. She helps her parents during the afternoon but she can come every morning. She needs some extra money anyway.
Sophie had to try very hard to not laugh when Howl said in a very girlish tone "I hope I won't be a burden to you, sir. Lettie is a good friend to me, she always helped me when I was in need, now it's my time to help her." Whether it was because Howl had the good sense to disguise as a cute, innocent-looking girl or because Lettie's boss really liked Lettie, he didn't question any further and accepted "Olette" as a temporary employee. To make it even more believable, Howl had changed once again one of the castle doors so it would look like a small two-level house, with a small store on the first floor. "Olette's house" apparently was also her "dad's little pharmacy".
When they returned home a bit of fear, anxiety and sadness mixed with relief took the hearts of everyone. Next day it was the day in which the Hatters and the prince would depart. However, reason was stronger in the end, and, once the sun started once again to light the starless sky the trio bid farewell and left Howl and Markl alone in the castle, the rest of the residents of the moving castle still sleeping.
"No, I don't think this will look good."
"Oh, don't be stupid, you look like a princess!"
It was once again time for the flowers bloom at the kingdom, for once again it was spring. But all the towns seemed to have more flowers than the usual. Petals could be seen flying everywhere, covering the streets like a colorful carpet.
Little had changed at Market Chipping, except for some things. The first thing that everyone would point out was that the local pharmacy had closed and the family that used to live there had moved to another country, which was a pity because the bearded little old man and his daughter used to sell really good medicine. Of course the girl was a bit strange, her dog was always following her everywhere and she didn't like to go out after work with her co-workers. Maybe she was too shy or scared to walk alone at night, because she always went straight home after finishing her job.
On the other hand, people at Market Chipping were happy to know that the Hatters were reopening their hat shop after years, exactly where the pharmacy used to be. Since the end of the war the store had been closed and sold. The only one that wasn't so happy was the owner of Cesary's, because he had lost one of his best employees. Yet, he was happy for the girl.
At the capital the only thing that changed was the new royal wizard, a gentleman with blond hair and blue eyes that was chosen among all the wizards of the country to replace Madam Sulliman, who, after centuries had passed away peacefully. As if she knew she was going to die sooner or later, she was very worried into finding a new apprentice, since her last one, Howell Jenkins, fled after a disagreement between them and refused to take the role of royal wizard. Ironically the one she selected was very similar to how her servants looked like, except the way he dressed made him look like a harlequin, not to mention the teardrop marks he had under his eyes.
But the reason why all towns had so many petals that year was because lots of flower ornaments were placed everywhere. It was in a very beautiful spring day that Prince Justin married the second daughter of the Hatters, Lettie Hatter, and everyone made flower bouquets to celebrate it. He had proposed to her a few months after their return to Market Chipping, and after one year of preparations they were finally getting married. She was dressed all in white, with little pink details that matched the faint rosy petals of her bouquet. Once the couple kissed, it was like a happy ending from a fairy tale becoming true. Lettie indeed looked like the princess she had become, with the delicate golden tiara that, after much persuasion from her older sister, she agreed to wear.
After the wedding, a ball was held at the castle. That brought back many memories, because it had been over a year that the royal family had held a public ball. And, once more, the one that called more attention at the crows was Wizard Howl, but this time it was because he cast light to all the pink flowers, illuminating the whole city with bright orange light and surprising everyone with such beautiful scene. While not officially the royal wizard and still with a couple of bad rumors under his feet, Howl was now known for being in good terms with the prince and a fair amount of people begun to accept that he was in fact a good person.
The royal wizard conjured magical instruments to play the first waltz, and of course the first ones to dance were the groom and the bride. They charmed everyone, dancing surrounded by the magical flowers that seemed follow their steps with their flickering orange light.
As soon as the first waltz ended, the newly married couple invited Howl and Sophie to dance as well. They hadn't danced since that incident, and while they had practiced once more before the wedding Sophie was a bit nervous. Howl, on the other hand, seemed to be comfortable enough with the current situation. And as soon as the second waltz started, it was clear enough that Howl not only had learned to waltz, but had also learned how to lead in a very graceful way. Sophie felt like she was doing the sky stroll once more, even though her feet told her she was still stepping on the polished floor of the ballroom.
Dancing never felt so good for her, and while this was her sister's special day, she felt like today was a special day for her as well. It was rare for her to not have anything to worry about. The waltz was a short one, but for her it could have lasted forever. She didn't dare and didn't wish to break the eye contact with Howl, who smiled in such a charming and reassuring way that it only made her want to stay with him like this for the eternity.
"Sophie… " She suddenly heard. The waltz was almost reaching its end.
"… I've never asked this to you before but…"
"… I hope we will have other waltz to dance in our life… and that you'll be my partner on this eternal dance… forever."
Just when the second waltz ended, she could hear only one whisper, even though everyone in the ballroom was taking loudly and clapping. Soon another waltz would start, and life would continue on. But to her, that one whisper was soft and so shy that if she hadn't paid attention she wouldn't have heard it, and it seemed as if time had stopped when Howl opened his mouthg to say:
"Will you marry me?'
Sorry for the abrupt ending, and I did try to beta read myself, but I've been busy lately so some mistakes might have passed through. I hope you've enjoyed reading this story, and once again I'm very sorry for not finishing it earlier.