A/N: It's kind of been forever, I know! I'm really sorry ;_; Just life is..life and yeah. To anyone who's still reading this and such, thanks and you're awesome!

Chapter 22: Wedding Bells

To Sophie's relief, the weather stayed unusually dry for the remainder of the month. She hobbled around the house restlessly; with a stomach the size of a large cannon and twice as heavy, she couldn't exactly go anywhere without exhausting herself. Howl had set up some enchantment to keep her from staying too long in the flower shop, and though with concentration she'd be able to break through it, it was hard to get her mind focused.

Martha was around quite often, giving Sophie a chance to coo over Ivy and enjoy the company of someone other than Howl, Rose, or Calcifer.

Lettie also visited on a regular basis. Her wedding was fast approaching, and with it came a ridiculous amount of stress from her sister. She was, to put it lightly, freaking out about it, and agonizing over every last detail. Sophie had a feeling everything would be fine, but Lettie seemed determined not to see reason.

"They're both magic, for heaven's sake!" she remarked to Calcifer one evening, after Lettie had stopped by to pour out her worries for the seating arrangements. "Can't she for one minute remember that?"

Calcifer, of course, wasn't of much help. A truth universally acknowledged is that a fire demon is never a good consultant for advice on marriage, unless one wants ideas for how not to successfully wed.

But despite Lettie's worries, the wedding drew closer and closer, until Sophie suddenly found it looming the next day.

"Hard to believe, isn't it?" she said to Rose, who was thumbing through a treatise on the magical properties of dandelions.

Rose shrugged. "I'm glad it's almost here. After a while Lettie's whining got on my nerves." She flinched, as if realizing what she'd said. "Not to be rude, I mean. I just-"

Sophie laughed. "No, I know exactly what you mean."

The day of the wedding dawned bright and cold, though its brightness came not from the sun but from the white clouds covering the sky in all directions. Sophie didn't think to be worried by them—her mind was occupied with getting through the day.

She shimmied into the dress Martha had given her for the occasion, a violet gown she'd had while pregnant with Ivy. It was a squeeze, but thankfully she fit. When she emerged into the hallway, the bathroom door was shut tight. The sound of faucets running told her Howl was getting ready as well.

"Do try not to outshine the groom," she called through the door. "Or the bride, for that matter."

That earned her a chuckle, and she smiled as she headed downstairs. Rose was in the kitchen, buttering a slice of bread. She appeared to be ready for the wedding already.

"Quite a day ahead of us," Sophie remarked, grabbing some bread for herself.

Rose nodded. "I hope all of Kingsbury hasn't been invited..." she muttered.

Sophie almost groaned at the thought. "They do know a lot of people, don't they? I doubt it will be that crowded, though. The building where it's being held is actually quite small."

Rose smiled in relief and took another bite of her toast.

Howl swept into the room, looking entirely too dressed-up, even in comparison to the latest fashion trends for Ingary's nobility. Which were, for lack of a better term, almost ridiculously illustrious.

Sophie stared blankly at him, then rolled her eyes. "For a second there I'd forgotten that it isn't actually your wedding, Howl."

He turned up his nose and smirked. "Say what you like. A wizard must keep up his appearances , you know." He slid into a chair and eyed Sophie's breakfast.

"Got any more toast?"

"Oh, yes, but you want to keep up appearances, right? I wouldn't want you getting food in your teeth, or unpleasant breath."

Howl withered as Rose stifled a laugh and Sophie smiled innocently.

Yes, it was going to be quite a day.

"I can't believe you, Howl!"

The sky above Kingsbury was dark and heavy, but Sophie paid it no mind. She was far too focused on raging at her husband – and, of course, getting to the wedding in time.

"You just had to lock yourself into the bathroom for another thirty minutes," she huffed angrily.

Howl made a sound of protest. "It wasn't that long, I assure you! We'll be fine, we've still got...thr—two minutes left. Relax, dear."

She rolled her eyes and kept moving. The streets weren't busy for the most part, and they were able to weave through any crowds, but they could only move so fast as their feet were willing to take them. Running full-speed would only bring disaster, Sophie knew, and with the baby weighing her down it felt like her legs were submerged in an unyielding jelly.

After what seemed like an eternity of speed-walking, she, Rose, and Howl slipped into the building where Lettie and Suliman were to be wed. The chamber was already mostly full, and was mostly silent apart from a few whispered conversations.

They slipped into a bench in the back, just as music began, seeming to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. The first of Suliman's enchantments. She glanced over at Howl, who was nodding his approval.

It was not to be a complicated ceremony, as was Lettie's insistence, so it started right off with the groom walking down the aisle. He looked nervous, though in a way that showed how happy he was to be there.

Next came Lettie, looking positively radiant, if a bit terrified. Sophie grinned encouragingly at her once she'd reached the front of the room. Her sister sent her a smile, looking not unlike the vibrant girl she'd been before being sent off to seek her fortune.

It didn't make Sophie sad, though there was definitely an element of nostalgia throughout the ceremony. To see both her sisters married was a strange experience. It didn't feel like it had been so long ago when she was pulling them off each other as they fought over childish toys or snacks.

When the couple had said their vows and kissed, Sophie followed them out of the building with the rest of the guests. The reception was being held at a restaurant Suliman had rented out for the day.

They were halfway there when a pleased voice cried out, "Look! Snow!"

Hands reached out to catch the tiny snowflakes, but Sophie could only grip Howl's hand in fear. No. This was bad, very bad.

Winter's first snow.

The manticore was coming.


*evil laughter I think yes*

Hopefully I'll continue writing, and have the next chapter up soon.

Next one is the last, aside from the epilogue!

Hope you enjoy, and feel free to review! :D (if you do, you get eternal glory, you know)