Thank you guys for sticking with this story... It really means a lot that there are other Howls moving Castle fans out there who would love to see more of his story with Sophie… Out of interest… would anyone like to see the story from another person's pov?

Natalie xxx

The next few days passed by too fast. Markl was barely home, he was playing with Toby. Justin had official business to take care of and holed himself (with my permission) in a spare room he turned into an office. The witch of the waste had gone home with a warning that when Howl returned he would not be the same man.

I busied myself in the shop during the day and in the evenings I walked down to the little river that resided in Howl and I's garden and lay listening to the water. I hoped every night that Howl would come home and sit with me. That he would tell me one of his magical stories about his childhood. I knew they were fantasy. I knew they were made up and that Howl's childhood was far from magical but that made his stories so special. I knew they had come from his heart's desire and that he was creating them for me.

One night I was interrupted by a loud knocking and I called out to see who was making the noises. When no reply came I got up and made my way to the house. As I walked through the door a feeling of dread passed over me and I immediately ran towards the sound of the commotion. I opened the front door of the shop and watched as Toby and Markl stumbled through my front door, tear stained and grazed knees in tow.

"Markl!? Toby"? What's happened?

Toby managed to wipe away his tears and tell me that the local bully had taken the two seated bicycle they had been playing on.

"Toby sweetheart lets get you home to your mother and fat…"

"You can't!" he screamed. "They are working. Mrs Ben is looking after me but she is sleeping."

I smiled at him. Okay calm down now boys. You can stay here for now Toby and Markl come here to your Sophie and give me a cuddle, I'm worried sick."

Both boys sat beside me on the sofa and as I cradled them in my arms it occurred to me that I would not have this if I had been freed from my curse when I asked and sent back to normality. I just couldn't handle the thought.

Once the boys had calmed down I cleaned their cuts and faces and fixed them some lunch. I didn't know where else to go so I left the boys eating and made my way to the makeshift office at the back of the house. Before I could knock on the door, Justin had opened it and was looking at me questioningly.

"Are you okay?"

I told him about what had happened to the boys and he said he would have his friends go and find the bike for them. It made my heart warm to know that he was going to do that for them, interrupting his work.

"The boys will love that, thank- you for looking after Markl, he really looks up to yo…"

He interrupted me.

"Sophie. They are boys, these things happen and they will get over it. I want to know how YOU are doing."

He touched his cool hand to my cheek and looked into my eyes. Despite knowing it was a comforting gesture, it made me feel uneasy. I looked up at him.

"I'm fine Justin, really."

"Even knowing you are the most honest person I have ever met I know that you are hiding something from me… Talk to me Sophie, I can help you."

He led me into the office and I sat shyly on the fluffy rug spread in front of the fire and crossed my legs. He looked as though he wanted to join me but sat on the chair close by instead.

"Sophie I can take you away."

I stared on in shock and dismay. When he noticed my silence he knelt down on his knees and put his hands in mine.

"Sophie, Howl is taking advantage of you and I don't like it. You deserve better. If you came with me you'd be living a life of utter luxury, you wouldn't have to lift even a finger."

My eyes filled with tears and I stood abruptly, knocking him to his back.

"Justin you don't understand. I have to be here, Markl and Howl and Cal… They need me."

"And who do you need Sophie?! You pick up after this Howl guy and what thanks does he give you? He leaves and dumps the kid on you whenever he feels! He doesn't deserve you Sophie!"

By now I was fully crying. Whether that was because of his tone, his words or the sudden realisation that by anyone else's standards I was still his cleaner/ babysitter. In a way, what he said was completely correct and so I had to leave. I ran to my bedroom, locked the door and threw myself on my bed in complete hysterics. I calmed myself but it took time and by this point I was concerned about the two small boys I had left in the living room.

I wiped my face clear of all my make- up, put on my old, dull blue dress and walked down the stairs. If I was just a housekeeper to these people I should dress like one. I was surprised to see Justin and the boys watching a movie in silence and so I took a place on the small armchair and curled into the fabric wishing I could just dissolve right into it.

I looked at the class patio doors that separated our safe space from the outside world and saw the reflection of what could be a perfect family in a movie like the one we were watching right now. Two young children sat beside their father and a lady sat apart from her family watching them exist. All I needed now was some knitting or mending to do and the picture would be complete. I could never have that. Justin would leave, Howl would stay away and Markl and I would be the only real family either of us had. We would have to look out for each other. It was then that I realised I had put Markl in a vulnerable position.

As soon as the credits started rolling I announced that I should take Toby home and explain what happened to the boys earlier that day. Markl started to put up a fight but quickly realised that resistance was futile… I found this hilarious. He insisted on coming next door with me to 'protect me' from the evils that lurk on the street these days'. After telling them what had happened, Toby's mother insisted on having Markl for the night and giving me a break. Markl agreed quickly for me and ran to pack a bag.

When I returned home I felt crushingly lonely. Justin had returned to his work and I wandered around aimlessly completing chores for something to do. When washing the dishes I began to sing a melody that came to mind. The words easily tumbled from my mouth and though I was no great singer I began to enjoy myself. That's when I noticed Justin stood by the door chuckling.

"Sophie, that's the most fun I think I have ever seen you have and it was washing dishes by yourself. You are a true mystery."

I blushed.

"Sorry if I disturbed you si…"

"Sophie. Tell me you were not about to call me Sir… I could just drop dead right here if I thought I had given you the impression that this was acceptable."

"Sorry Justin. It's just been such a long day."

"I know. Do you know why I came down here Sophie?"

I began to open my mouth when he interrupted me again- A habit that was becoming a regular occurrence.

"No, I am not thirsty… or hungry, I don't want to watch television. I don't want to do anything until I have apologised to you for my behaviour earlier. It just frustrates me to see you in this situation."

I sighed. "It's okay. I suppose I can see how it looks from your position." I hugged my arms to my chest and looked up at him.

"You just look so sad and I know that If you would give me the chance I could fix that. I could make you happy." He crossed the room in two confident strides, his hair cascading down his back.

"Justin, I know that I saved you from your curse but you owe me nothing, I told you that."

He put his hand to my cheek and looked into my eyes with a pained expression.

"Is that what you think this is about? Because if that is the case you are utterly mistaken."

He pulled me into him for a hug and I instantly relaxed. It had been so long since I had felt so completely safe and warm. He tilted my chin up and I almost knew what was coming next.

"So beautiful" he muttered before lowering his own head.

His lips were so close to mine I could feel his hot breath on my cheek. He placed a gentle but firm hand under my neck and began to move closer.

At that moment… The phone rang a shrill tone.