Note: This story uses both the book and the movie. A missing moment (that happened in the movie) when Howl arrives at the castle and sees the young Sophie sleeping, but with Howl's character traits from the book.
Disclaimers, etc: See profile.

Storm night

Single Chapter: In Which Howl and Calcifer watch over Sophie's sleep

It was a stormy night. From the fireplace Calcifer watched the window as lightings stroke outside, brightening the room. He was in a bad mood for he didn't like the rain. It was late and everyone was already sleeping.

Everyone but Howl. He was out, as always. Howl never slept early, however with such bad weather Calcifer though Howl could postpone his date for once.

Suddenly, the round sign above the door turned around so that it had the black color downward, opening the door. Howl entered the castle, closing the door with a thud and the sound of thunder behind him; he was wet from head to toe and dragging his feet due tiredness. He took his coat off and sat down in front of the fireplace, taking his boots off and stretching out his legs, in order to heat his feet by the warm fire.

"You are late", the fire demon muttered.

"You never complained before", Howl retorted with his eyes closed. His head bend down.

"But it's raining!" Calcifer protested, as if Howl had done something forbidden.

"Of course it is", Howl laughed, "That's the reason why you are so moody. You complain as if there was no magic protection against the rain on your chimney".

The wizard opened his eyes and stared Calcifer. He noted two logs beside the fire demon.

"What are these logs doing there?" he asked.

"Sophie gave me, so I won't get hungry at night". Calcifer answered, taking one log. "She is moody and bad tempered sometimes, but a nice person".

Howl laughed.

"I've never seen a fire demon saying that a sulky old thing is a nice person… This is news for me. But now that you mention, I remembered something… "

The wizard walked through his workbench, looking for something in the shelves. He walked back with a very old cotton bag in his hands.

"Now… Where is she sleeping exactly?" He looked around, as if Sophie were sleeping under the table or on a corner of the hall.

"There", Calcifer answered, pointing the place under the stairs, where there was a curtain. "Michael placed a bed for her under the stairs for days for days now, but every single night you still ask me that".

"Don't bother me", Howl muttered, "I can't bother with such trivial details when there are so many urgent, concerning and more important matters to deal with".

"Yeah, like run away and hide from an old witch", Calcifer said with sarcasm.

"Who is looking for both of us, if you don't remember", the wizard corrected, looking annoyed. "After what she's done to Wizard Sulliman and Prince Justin, I'm surprised that you believe I could go after that cruel woman. Ha! No even all the King's gold is worth the trouble".

Calcifer shook his flames and pretended to believe the wizard's words. Howl walked straight to the stairs and opened the curtains slowly. He held his breath, surprised, and kept still, looking Sophie asleep, astonished.

"Well… I think I don't need to waste my magic dust anymore", he said, still staring her.

"But she's still old", Calcifer retorted. Howl turned to him.

"She looks like her true self here", he said in a whisper, indicating Sophie with his head.

The fire demon tried very hard to stretch out his flames so he could see something. He tried so much in fact that he had to use a partially burned log to maintain his balance.

He couldn't see Sophie's face; she was with head turned to the opposite side, but he could see her long, reddish straw hair, spread over the improvised bed. He also saw one of her hands without any wrinkle, which was a mark of the old Sophie.

"But during all day she's still a nosy, horribly bossy old thing, like you said yourself", he remarked, losing his balance from the log and falling to the middle of the fireplace, where he always remained.

Howl turned to watch her again. So, it had been her, the beautiful girl whom he flirted on May Day and who had tried to escape and hide herself, like a scared little gray mouse.. And with that gray dress, which didn't suit the young Sophie at all – but too much the old Sophie – she really looked like a scared little gray mouse. He remembered following her from a certain distance, up to Cesari's in Market Square, there were so many people that he gave up waiting for her and left.

A few days later, thinking that he would never see his little gray mouse again, Howl fell for Lettie Hatter's charms, Ms. Fairfax's apprentice. Howl had to admit that he had the bad habit of forgetting everything when catching sight of a beautiful girl. Maybe that was the reason that Lettie looked so familiar to him and perhaps why he though he knew Sophie before, when she came into his castle for the first time.

"Her nose doesn't look so big now", he said, laughing in a low voice.

Calcifer looked the wizard, suspicious.

"You're watching her too much".

"No, I'm not", Howl answered, without turning to look the fire demon.

"Yes, you are. You are gazing upon Sophie and looking like a fool", Calcifer concluded, with a malicious laugh.

"And I'm telling you that I'm not", Howl closed harshly the curtains and turned to the fire demon, which saw the wizard's face rosy. "And I was not "gazing up" Sophie, I was just thinking why she turns young when she is unconscious. Did it happen yesterday?"

"I'm not sure, but I guess so. It's a strong spell. I detected two layers, as I told you, but one layer was weak yesterday and I didn't feel it anymore today".

"Neither do I", Howl sat down again, thoughtful. Hands on chin, he stared at the closed curtain. "Maybe she is the one who is keeping this spell up. I don't think that I can do anything else for Sophie. It's a pity, such a waste".

"Now will you date Sophie, just because you saw her young?"

"No!" Howl laughed, "I have no intention of dating an old woman, Calcifer. And that's why is such a waste.", he smiled, peacefully, "Well, she's not complaining of any pain at least. Is she?"

"No, it seems that she is stronger. She works hard all day and you still exploit her, like you do with me", Calcifer said, a bit sulky.

"Heavens!" Howl proclaimed, ignoring the last comment. "We already know how the old Sophie is strong; just imagine now the young Sophie. Obstinate, stubborn and bossy… Twice!"

Howl stood up again and again opened the curtain, slower than before. Sophie was still sleeping, ignoring the rain, the thunderbolts and the conversation. Howl couldn't hide his smile.

"Fascinating…" He whispered, in a way that even Calcifer could hear.

"Howl, Howl" Calcifer warned him. "Be careful of your intentions with Sophie, Howl".

"Don't bother me, Calcifer". He answered without turning back.

"I'm telling you. Don't play with her feelings as you do with all the others. By the way, as I said, she's still old. Even physically strong, her heart can become too weak and don't resist. You know what happened when she saw the scarecrow."

"Is possible that she remains old because she wants to be, I don't have any other explanation", Howl said, closing the curtain again. "I bet that she even knows that she can give life to things. Our dear Ms. Nose underestimates herself too much".

"Maybe she sees herself like an old person. You should think of something that makes her feels like young again."

"Think of something yourself, then!" Howl pretended to be angry, "How dare a fire demon tell me what to do? And you still think that you are the one who is being exploited. You must know that I have other matters to take care of, Calcifer."

But Calcifer felt Howl's heartbeat get stronger. "So he will think of something, after all", the fire demon though.

Howl took his coat, still wet and started to go upstairs.

"I'll get a cold, worst than the last".

"And then I would be free from you", the fire demon muttered.

"If that happens, you'll die too, don't forget", the wizard retorted. "I need hot water for a bath".

Calcifer took the second log that Sophie had given to him. On the middle of the stairs, Howl spoke again.

"I hope you know what you are doing, my friend. You should know that using Sophie to break our contract is not so simple."

Calcifer sighed and looked at the closed curtain. He went silent for a moment, and then he said:

"I believe in Sophie, I believe that she can break this contract. It was a mistake; it was no good for neither of us".

"Then I'll trust in Sophie too", Howl smiled, "I'll send her to Ms, Pentstemmon, perhaps she can find a solution for Sophie. But for now, hot water in the bathroom".

And Howl went up the stairs, leaving Calcifer alone. The fire demon didn't complain this time; only kept watching the closed curtain.

"You have to wish to be young again too, Sophie, before it's too late. So you can break my contract and your spell".

The rain had stopped. Slowly Calcifer fell asleep too, dreaming that he was shining on the sky, happy, watching the happiness of a couple on a flying castle.

The end (or not).

Final note: Special thanks to Bel and Scila, who read and helped me with this English version. Kisses!