Disclaimer: I don't own Howl's Moving Castle; but I have read the book. It was great! You should read it!
Spoiler alert: If you're reading fanfiction with a title like this, you probably don't care about getting "spoiled", but—just so it's all clear—this story does contain spoilers, mostly from the book. So if you have not read the book, proceed at your own risk of spoilization.
This story can be taken as an alternate ending to the book or as an additional ending, after the book ends, if you prefer.
After the End
"So… I suppose all this means I can stay?"
Howl had bid polite goodbyes to everyone else who'd been crowding his kitchen— her step-mother, his apprentice, the lost prince, her sisters, another wizard, and a good but viciously talkative witch— but had kept Sophie there by keeping a possessive grip on her no-longer-wrinkled hand. Now, as he was looking down at her, his green eyes deepened and twinkled at the same time— not unlike the starry night sky outside the window. They were perfectly serious eyes, although his voice and smile were laughing.
"You know how it is. I never said you couldn't, Mrs. Witch," He replied, calling her by her rumored nickname. "Perhaps it is because I am too cowardly to go against someone as frightening as you."
"Hmph." Sophie snorted, trying to look away—anywhere but his eyes—yet finding she was unable to. "You shouldn't say such things. You're supposed to be more honest now, Howl!" She replied, feeling slightly angry with herself that she couldn't sound angrier.
Howl's charming smile faded, till his expression was as thoughtful as his eyes, which still would not release her gaze.
"You've changed, Sophie. Have you noticed?"
The question took Sophie by surprise. She had changed? Had anyone ever uttered such an understatement?
In the past hour, she had gone from being a wrinkled old woman back to a pretty young girl. And in the past few months, she had gone from being a depressed failure to someone who could really make a difference. She'd discovered she could use magic. She'd met the most powerful, imposing people in the land of Ingary, despite her fears. She'd freed a wizard and a demon star from a contract that was dooming them both. And she'd done all this successfully, while battling physical ailments, curses, spells, difficult people, her own temper, and the belief that she was doomed to fail in life. She supposed it was inevitable that these experiences had changed her; but it hadn't all sunk in yet, really… and she certainly wasn't ready to talk about it with anyone. So, she was silent.
"That's alright, Sophie dear. It's often hard for people to recognize changes in themselves. Let me provide my assistance."
Taking hold of her hand, Howl led Sophie into the bathroom and firmly put her in front of a mirror.
Sophie gasped, not only out of relief at seeing that she looked like her actual age once more, but at the sight of her clothes, which Howl must have enchanted a moment ago.
No longer was she clothed in mousy gray. Her dress was now a fresh shade of aqua blue, which contrasted nicely with her long red-gold hair. The skirt of the dress was shorter, and the top was more youthful in it's design. At her waist was a smart white eyelet lace sash. The outfit looked as if it'd come from the finest shop in Kingsbury. In addition to the dress, she was wearing shiny white leather shoes with buckles—prettier than she'd ever owned; white lace gloves; and a straw hat decorated with white eyelet lace and aqua flowers, to match her dress. At the sight of the hat, she involuntarily gasped again—for she recognized it as one that she had once made and spoken to. But she couldn't remember what she had said to it, because all of a sudden, she felt a lump in her throat. Finally, the last of the gruffness that she'd acquired as an old lady melted away, and she starred down at her new shoes and watched them shimmer in a blur of tears.
Howl took her shoulders and turned her around gently. Then he reached out and lifted her chin. Two hot tears were just slipping down her cheeks, and Sophie was ready to die of embarrassment and confusion at their discovery.
Howl himself looked quite shocked, and took a step back, his face the picture of disappointment.
"Why are you crying? Is it the color? I'll change it right now, if you like." Her dress started changing its hue—from aqua to sky blue to navy to purple to magenta to red to yellow… The colors of her dress, reflected on all the mirrors in the large bathroom, turned the entire room into a magical, rainbow kaleidoscope. Sophie's eyes widened and she looked down at the dress, watching it wonderingly. But she still couldn't speak, for the lump in her throat; so Howl was kept guessing.
"Or is it me? You don't want to stay here, 'happily ever after', to be 'exploited', as you say." This idea brought a very sorrowful frown on Howl's unshaven (due to having rushed out to rescue her and kill the Witch of the Waste) face, and the colors of Sophie's dress began to darken along with his expression.
Had Sophie looked up, she would have immediately recognized the signs of a green-slime mood coming on. But she kept her face down, taking deep breaths to try to stop crying. She'd been so wrong about Howl; only now she could see that, and it was shocking and a little scary to admit it. She was still gathering up the courage while, behind her, Howl was beginning to throw a tandrum-- an unavoidable but forgivable character flaw. After all, he did so like to be appreciated—and so far, his handiwork was being cried over.
"Well, you're very smart not to choose to live with the likes of me, you know." He crossed his arms, he hardened his voice, and he started to pace. "I'm very cowardly and would probably give in to your every whim, and since I'm a wizard I would probably get unnecessarily angry and deal out cruel and unusual punishments to anyone who tried to take advantage of you. I'm so vain that you'd never have the trouble of reminding me how to match my clothes or when I needed a haircut; and I'm so messy that you would never run out of cleaning to keep you busy and spry. I tend to be rather generous, so you'd probably be getting extra things you didn't really need all the time, and I'm so soft hearted that I would never let you suffer any discomfort at all, if I possibly could…"
But Howl never got to continue his speech, because at that moment Sophie wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, quickly and gently, on the lips. It was, after all, her first kiss.
"What—what?— Sophie dear, I thought—" Howl sputtered, an honestly confused half-smile on his face.
"I'm sorry." Sophie said softly, pulling away and looking up into his deep, twinkling green eyes. An embarrassed flush brightened her youthful face as she explained.
"I'm not mad at you, Howl. How could I be? You've just had me so confused, I was angry at myself. I didn't understand why you were trying to win my heart, Howl. No one's ever tried to before, you know, and I never really thought you would want it. But if you do want my heart, and you promise to keep it safe, and treasure it always, then you can have it. I really do want to stay with you, forever." Sophie was grinning, ear to ear, as she spoke, and her eyes shone like stars—stars that were full of life, set in a midnight sky.
Howl took her hand, bowed slightly, and kissed it.
"I think that's a great idea," he said, as if he hadn't thought of it in the slightest.
The next day, there was an elaborate wedding in Kingsbury, to which half the town was invited—and the other half showed up anyway. Although the wedding could not be held in Market Chipping, due to the success of the blackening of Howl's name in that town, with a little bit of magic Howl was able to get all of Sophie's family, relatives, friends, and acquaintances there.
The gossips of Kingsbury were quite surprised to find out that the Wizard Howl—slippery, cowardly, powerful, charming Wizard Howl-- had finally found the woman, true and fair, of his dreams. They were equally shocked when they discovered that this young woman was the eldest of three—very unlucky, indeed.
But when they saw her walk down the aisle, everyone had to agree that Sophie Hatter made a very beautiful, perfect bride indeed. Only those who had known her as a hat maker in Market Chipping recognized the white eyelet lace and aqua flowered hat she was wearing as one of her own. And of those people, only one of them could see keenly enough to know what she had said to it.
Lettie, Sophie's sister, smiled, her face radiating joy from ear to ear. She knew her sister was destined for a bright and exciting future—in addition to a happily-ever-after—after all.
Thank you for reading!
I hope you enjoyed it, and, as always, reviews would be appreciated!