Disclaimer: I wish I owned Howl's Moving Castle, but I don't. Otherwise I'd have a clean room! ^.^

2/11/16: Since many of my author's notes are outdated, I'm going back and updating them for the comfort of newer readers!

I wrote this to the sound of a tiny "What if..." In a few chapters, you'll see what that means! When you are done reading the prologue, let me know what you think. Intriguing? Boring?


"To Steal a Heart"

Prologue

Sophie Hatter slipped a hand behind her back and crossed her fingers as the customer inspected a hat.

The customer was a woman of about forty, with stern yet elegant features, and the hat in her hands was one of Sophie's latest designs. The woman was inspecting it carefully, admiring the way its blue-black cloth matched the fabric of her dress, and she seemed particularly pleased with the black lace and neatly stitched cherries along the brim. However, there was hint of doubt in her expression, and it was enough to warn Sophie that she might yet again lose a sale that day.

"It really is quite a charming hat," conceded the customer. She ran her gloved fingers over it as if she was not yet ready to part with it. "For all of the nice little trinkets I have at home, though, I am wondering if I need it."

"Madame, if I may offer my opinion?" Sophie asked calmly.

The client paused in her fidgeting to purse her lips. "Why, of course, dear," she consented, turning the hat at another angle. "It's your shop. Do you think this one suits me?"

"I believe that hat is completely necessary to your style," Sophie replied, guiding the woman to a mirror.

The customer was intrigued. She slipped the hat on her head and turned this way and that.

"My style?" she repeated. No other shopkeeper had mentioned it before. She looked down at the gray-clad young woman before her and wondered a bit. "What do you mean?"

Sophie gave a small smile. "The hats seem to pick the customer, madam, and not the other way around." She gestured to her client's starched, blue-black dress. "If you'll excuse me for saying so, you seem to be a rather strait-laced sort of person," Sophie admitted, "one who lives expensively, yet maintains the simple luxuries. This hat reflects that style. And wouldn't you agree that it perfectly suits your dress?"

The older woman nodded slowly. "You are quite the saleswoman, young lady," she said, a smile breaking through her stern countenance. "Yes, quite the saleswoman indeed. I'll take it. How much does it cost?"

Sophie could barely hide her relief as she told her the price, and the woman opened her purse and carefully counted out the amount. Sophie went to get change, but when she tried to hand it to her customer, the woman gave her a long, thoughtful look.

"Keep it."

The Hatter girl could not disguise her astonishment.

"But, madam, it's far too much!"

"You think I don't know that?" The woman eyed her pointedly for a moment before smiling once again. "Have a good day," she stated over her shoulder as she strolled towards the front door.

Sophie was astounded. However, habit saved her, and she quickly recovered her manners in time to return the farewell and thank her for her kindness. The customer paused with her hand on the doorknob.

"Tell me, girl," she said. The stitched cherries on her new hat seemed to glitter as she turned her head. "Do you have any... siblings?"

Sophie blinked and subconsciously bit her bottom lip. Her hand twisted slightly in the gray material of her skirt as she gently cleared her throat.

"I am the eldest of three," she said with accustomed practice.

The woman at the door sighed and shook her head. "Such a waste..." she mumbled. Then she opened the door and carried herself outside, the words "such a waste" left lingering in the air behind her.