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Iris

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I.

“So it’s yet another war, huh? It’s a wonder Sulliman isn’t tired of them.” The pages of the newspaper rustled. “What are they fighting over this time? A missing prince? How quaint,” the man said sarcastically. “As usual, humanity will burn and recover- and live to repeat all this again for all eternity.” He murmured, more to himself than anyone else.

“Would you like more tea, sir?” The waitress asked, holding a metal jug of steaming water.

“No thank you, Dear. I was just leaving,” the man smiled winsomely at the young girl- who blushed and nodded. Thankfully, her grip on the jug remained steady.

The man got up and stretched his limbs. He should probably leave this town before the war’s insatiable appetite consumes it whole. He looked over the coastlines at the lush, green mountains.  The harbor was peaceful, for now, and full of small fishermen ships. Seagulls cried in the skies, soaring over the seas. ‘What a pity,’ he thought as he folded his newspaper. The man looked at the idyllic harbor front, the calm peaceful seas, and the laughing children playing on the streets. He sat, observing the town and engraving every detail into his mind. ‘I will miss it very much.’


II.

“Sophie, come greet your new neighbor,” Lettie said while lounging around their father’s hat shop.

“I have one?” The elder Hatter asked apathetically while sewing a flower on yet another hat.

“Sophie, I can’t believe you,” Lettie said, throwing her hands up. “How can you not notice? And to think your new neighbor is a total cutie as well- you are so lucky.”

“You’ve met him?” She replied, not even looking up once. “You know I’m not interested in that sort of thing; I’m busy enough running this shop. I don’t have time for anything else.”

“Sophie, father wouldn’t have wanted you to stay cooped up in this shop all your life. You should go out and have fun. Live a little! Go meet the people around you, like that cute neighbor of yours,” Lettie pleaded, gently pushing Sophie’s back.

“He is the talk of the town, you know. Handsome, healthy young men like him are rare nowadays, with the war going on,” she said slyly, teasing her older- and of age to marry- sister.

Sophie nodded absently in vague agreement, not bothering with a verbal reply. She brushed off Lettie’s hands easily and refocused on her task.

“Oh come on, Sophie!” Lettie insisted and grabbed Sophie’s wrist. “At least be polite and say hello. It would be rude of you not to do so. A simply greeting wastes so much of your time,” she said sarcastically.

“Alright, alright. I’ll go. Just give me a second to clean up here.” Sophie sighed as Lettie bodily dragged her away from her table.  She brushed off the loose threads at her work station and hurriedly dumped her beads back into their bag. “I can walk on my own, you know.”


III.

“Welcome to my humble little antique store. Is there anything I can help you with?” A voice greeted the sisters the moment they pushed open the door. Sophie took a quick glance at the interior of the shop; it was much more spacious than it looked from the outside, curiously enough. The shelves were still relatively empty though. On the floor, boxes piled upon boxes stacked all the way up to the ceiling.

Unpacked stock, probably. Sophie thought to herself. This person must not have moved in too long ago.

“Oh hello again,” Lettie said coyly, fiddling with the hem of her uniform. Her cheeks were blushed as she batted her eyelashes coyly. “I am so terribly sorry to bother you again, but my sister here wanted to say hello. She owns the hat shop right across the street from you.” Lettie’s elbow dug unto Sophie’s back; she flinched.

“Oh er, hi. My name is Sophie,” she mumbled shyly at the young man behind the counter and curtsied slightly. Her gaze slid away from his face and onto the floor. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

At first glance, she could easily see why Lettie was so infatuated with the storeowner. Available young men are scarce enough nowadays, thanks to the war, and the man in front of her could easily be labeled as handsome.

“Hello,” the man smiled charmingly at them both- to Sophie’s surprise. She was used to being neglected in favor of Lettie (not that she minded much). “My name is Harry Potter. It’s nice to meet you. I have only moved in for a few days, so I can use all the help I can get, as you can see.” He laughed and gestured over to his tower of boxes. Lettie let out a small squeak- what for, Sophie didn’t know.

“I’m glad that my neighbors are so friendly.” He said politely while bowing.

“I’ll be more than happy to show you the many different stores our town has to offer,” Lettie said eagerly, immediately jumping on the chance. “When are you free? I work close by, so perhaps we can chat over tea?”

Sophie tried not to roll her eyes at her overenthusiastic younger sister. Typical Lettie.

If anything, Harry seemed taken back by Lettie’s attitude. “Er, I am very grateful for your help, but I believe I have yet to unpack all my belongings. If it is alright, my we have tea at a later date instead?” He said apologetically while trying to turn Lettie down lightly. He looked at the tower of boxes behind him and sighed.

Still, he seemed genuinely apologetic for turning down Lettie’s offer, Sophie thought.

“Oh that’s right,” Lettie tried to keep the disappointment from her voice. “I work at the bakery across the square, so maybe you can come find me when you have time? If you don’t know the way, Sophie will show you, right?”

“Er, right,” Sophie said. She had no intentions of wasting her time being a third wheel, but it would be nice to visit Lettie once in a while- tag-along stranger aside.

“I would not want to impose, Sophie,” Harry said sheepishly and rubbed his head. He really is polite, she mused.

“It would be my pleasure,” she said immediately. “I visit Lettie quite often, so it would not be an imposition at all.”

“Alright, perhaps another day then,” Harry agreed reluctantly. Or never, he thought to himself.


IV.

Harry looked up from polishing an old goblet when he sensed the presence of magic nearby. Nearby as it right across from the street.

‘My, I do hope Sophie is alright,’ Harry thought to himself. He had grown rather fond of the young women; she was diligent, responsible, and intelligent. She made good use of her time and had her priorities straight. Of course, he couldn’t say the same for her younger sister. Harry grimaced as he thought of the flirty blond. For reasons unknown to him, he was once again swarmed by bachelorettes. It seemed to be a reoccurring theme for him no matter how many times he relocated. He never took interest in their offers- he had no desire to leave any progeny in a world like this. Besides, he preferred women with ambition, independence, and confidence. A trophy wife would simply not do for him.

His mind recalled memories of Ginny, with her auburn hair and fiery temper. Ginny, he thought fondly to himself. He remembered her laugh, her bravery, and her skill. Her dirt streaked, tousled appearance after a particularly trying Quidditch match, and the happiness in her eyes after winning said match. He remembered her bravery as a student, fighting against opposition with all her might. He remembered the softness in her gaze and the warmth in her voice as she sung lullabies to their children in the dead of night. Roughly, he brushed aside his errant thoughts- dwelling on the dead will not bring them back, as much as he wished it would.

This town as a whole was rather nice- very peaceful and warm. It had a more earthy feel compared to his last harbor front town (which was now evacuated and most likely up in flames), he told himself. Since it was not close to any ports or military bases, the effects of war were rather muted here. Harry guessed that he had perhaps a couple of years left in this town if he was lucky, but he couldn’t really say for sure. War moves rather quickly, so he had to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

A spike of magic broke Harry from his thoughts- this time, he could identify the magical signature. It was rather familiar to him, though it was muted and distorted almost beyond recognition.

‘Ah, Howl,’ Harry nodded to himself after a moment of confusion. Only one magician would be that paranoid of getting caught. It has been many years since he has last seen Howl. Back when the boy was still Sulliman’s apprentice, Harry knew Howl’s uncle. The innocent, sweet boy was nothing like the heartless womanizer he found ten years later.

Howl’s moving castle, they say. To Harry, that moving pile of junk was an embodiment of Howl’s fear. If there was one thing the magician would fight tooth and nail for, it was his freedom. Merlin have mercy on anyone trying to take that away from him.

Anyhow, Howl’s presence here can only mean one thing: he found Sophie. While the girl was no beauty, she holds a latent sense of power within her. It was immense and purer than any other Harry had ever seen, but the girl was held back by her utter lack of a backbone. It was quite possible that the girl can learn magic if she ever got her mentality straightened out. Harry made a mental note to keep Sulliman well away from her.

However, Harry frowned. If Howl paid Sophie a visit- without stealing her heart- then it was quite possible that the Witch of the Waste would do so as well- that malicious, walking tub of lard.

With a sigh, Harry drew his magic closer to his core and hunkered down in his store. It has been many years since he has last been a magician- or a wizard. After the discovery of magic by muggle governments several centuries ago, he had done his best to make the transition process as smooth as possible. For a while, his efforts were successful, and the world carried on peacefully.

Until the first war came, that was. At first, magicians were hired, but eventually, new wizards and witches were forced to take magically binding oaths to report for duty in times of war. As one of the few surviving wizards of his time- and now, the only left- he was not required to take that oath. It was perhaps the only reason why he could live a semi-normal life as a nonmagical without the military knocking on his door.

Still, he had made his mistakes- if he could not fix them, he would do damn well to ignore their existence.


V.

“Sophie? What are you doing out here so early?” Harry asked curiously as he hauled out a rather large bag of garbage and broken antiques out the front door. It was truly a shame that so many of them broke during the move, he thought sadly. He reparo-ed them so often that the spell can hardly get them to move anymore. And so, to the dumps they go.

“You can recognize me?” Her old and cracking voice wheezed. Her back was hunched, and her face was full of wrinkles, but the purity inside her was the same as ever.

“Why of course. How could I not?” Harry shrugged. What a wizard he would be, if he could not even recognize such a plebian spell.

Sophie just stared. And kept staring. And stared some more, just for measure.

“Well, besides the fact that you have some sort of curse laid on you,” Harry admitted reluctantly. “I assume you can’t discuss the details of it with me.” It was one of the more malicious bit of magic the wizards of this era came up with: silence of the cursed. Unfortunately, that spell is quite widely known, so silence of the cursed does nothing to conceal the presence of the spell from magicians worth their salt.

She still stared. “You know magic?”

Harry hesitated and looked around the area for any of Sulliman’s minions. He absently formed a ward around the red sheet of paper in Sophie’s pocket as well- undoubtedly the Witch of the Waste’s tracking spell for Howl. “Let us not talk about the matter in here. Would you like some tea?” The wards around his shop should dispel any remaining listening spells on her body.

“Yes, if that is alright,” Sophie said slowly. She pulled the thick woolen coat around her tightly and seemingly shrunk back from the shop.

“Of course,” Harry nodded and showed her in. Reluctantly, she entered.


VI.

“So what do you plan to do now?” Harry added a dash of milk to his hot tea. It was a well practiced gesture, one that told of his heritage.

“I am heading to the Wastes to ask the Witch to cancel my spell,” Sophie said determinedly.

Harry raised his eyebrows. It appears that Sophie would gain confidence eventually- only that it would take her nearly sixty years to do it. It was also possible that her confrontation with the Witch unlocked some of her latent magic. Either way, some development in that direction is better than no development at all. He wasn’t quite sure how to help her with the curse, but Harry figured that Sophie can probably remove it herself once her magic develops enough. For now, he will simply have to wait.

“Okay. I will go with you,” Harry shrugged easily.

Sophie dropped her bread on her plate and gaped at him.

“What? Surely you don’t expect me to let you wander into the Wastes by yourself, do you? The Wastes are dangerous- and with good reason. You are not in your top physical condition right now, and even if you were, I would still insist. A woman wandering into the Wastes without the aid of magic is foolish at best,” Harry explained and got up. Like hell he was going to let someone of Sophie’s magical potential go into the wastes alone. No good magician would, really.

“Thank you for your kind help, but don’t you have a shop to run? I wouldn’t want to impose,” Sophie replied, looking pointedly at the tower of cardboard boxes stacked in a corner.

Harry waved away her concerns. “Nonsense- the shop can wait. I will simply have it locked until I return. What have you packed for now, Sophie? Come with me to the kitchens- since I can carry some of the heavier foodstuff and provisions for you, so you can bring more than just the essentials.”


VII.

“Sophie, are you alright?” Harry asked, concerned. His voice could barely be heard over the howling winds. As it is, he had to strain his voice to be heard.

“I’m fine- it’s just that these old bones don’t work like they used to anymore!” Sophie yelled over the howling winds and pulled her shawl closer to her body.

 “Sophie, we should take a break,” Harry suggested. His magic tingled at his fingertips, eager to be used. Harry ruthlessly suppressed it. While he didn’t have a warming charm for her, he did have a thermos of hot tea in his bag. He would not risk doing magic- not out here, at least. They were not in the wastes- not yet- and since the town is far from them now, any magical signature left behind here would be easily traced.

“Yes, perhaps a break would be good,” she muttered. Harry spotted a nice rock outcropping and pointed it out to Sophie.

“Let me put a blanket on it first- otherwise it will be rather cold,” he said while rummaging through his backpack. “There.” Thankfully, the thick blanket was already warm from being pressed close to Harry’s back throughout the hike.

“Thank you, Harry,” Sophie said gratefully and pulled out her provisions to share with Harry.

The duo ate in silence; Harry’s gaze swept through the landscape before him, engraving the beautiful scene into his mind.

“If only I wasn’t there dragging you down, Harry,” Sophie said quietly. “We haven’t made much progress at all. I guess being old is harder than I thought.”

“Nonsense, Sophie. We have come quite far from the town already. ” Harry said firmly. “I am here to help you- it’s what I came to do. I wouldn’t have headed out to the Wastes on my own anyways.” After a moment of silence, he joked, “Besides, you’re not getting rid of me this easily.”

Sophie laughed weakly. “Thank you,” she repeated.

“If there’s anything you need, I’ll do my best to help,” Harry laid his warm hands on her cold ones.

Sophie nodded and gave the matter some thought. Harry did look earnest in his offer. “A walking stick, perhaps? That way I won’t always have to lean on you.”

Harry rolled his eyes. Apparently, Sophie gets stubborn in her old age as well. “I’ll see if I can find you one. There should be plenty of branches on a hill like this,” Harry said, patting his knees and getting up.

“Branches like that one?”

“Well,” Harry started, but Sophie was already walking towards the stick.

“My, this is one stubborn branch,” she muttered as she tried to dislodge the branch in multitude of ways. She let out a gasp when it retaliated and nearly smacked her in the chin.

Harry sighed and got up. That’s because that is not a branch, he thought to himself. Nonetheless, he made his way towards her.

Even with their combined efforts, the branch was stubbornly stuck. They pulled and pushed this way and that with no avail. Finally, with one last heave, they wrestled it free of the brambles.

“Oh,” Sophie shrinked back in fear as the branch revealed to be a scarecrow. A gravity defying one, at that. “Just a scarecrow. I was afraid you would be one of those blob men again.”

“The witch’s?” Harry asked absently. Sophie nodded.

“But how are you standing on your own like that?” Sophie asked curiously and walked a half circle around the yet nameless magical scarecrow.

“He is probably cursed,” Harry mused. “Otherwise he shouldn’t be able to balance on his own- not with the wind blowing so strongly.”

Sophie stared. The scarecrow… also stared- as much as a scarecrow could anyways.

“The spell is quite strong too,” Harry walked around the scarecrow and looked at it closely. “Whoever laid this spell on is quite powerful- and has a sick sense of humor to boot. The magician added a side spell that causes you to trip; and since you can’t prop yourself back up…”

“Harry?” Sophie asked carefully.

“Yes?” He replied, feeling the material of the scarecrow’s coat tail. It spun around, yanking the fabric out of Harry’s hands. “Fine, fine,” the store owner muttered.

“How do you know he is cursed?”

“I told you- I used to be a magician,” Harry said shortly. “I’m not one- not anymore. Anyhow, we should get a move on before the sun sets. It will be even colder then.”

Sophie nodded. In the back of her mind, she noted that Harry was especially cagey whenever the topic of magic comes up. How does one quit being a magician anyways?

“Will you give him a name?” Harry asked. “You can’t just keep referring to him as Scarecrow.”

“Hm…” Sophie looked at the cursed scarecrow carefully. “Your head is a turnip; that is my least favorite  vegetable, you know. I guess I will call you Turniphead from now on.”

Harry sniggered, but at least the scarecrow didn’t have an issue with the name.

“Well, at least you’re not stuck anymore,” Harry shrugged. “It was nice meeting you- good luck with your curse. Here, I’ll take off the one that causes you to trip. It’s pretty minor, so I can do that. I’m afraid I can’t take off the one that caused you to turn into a scarecrow though.”


VIII.

“Sophie, hurry,” Harry rushed. “This is no time to be indecisive.” He gave Sophie a leg up onto the ledge of Howl’s Moving Castle and hopped on as well.

“Thank you Turniphead! It was a pleasure meeting you! I’m sure Howl won’t eat the heart an old lady like me,” Sophie called. “And thank you- for giving me my shawl back!”

“Howl will not be eating anyone’s heart if I can help it,” Harry said drily as he gently pushed Sophie through the door. “And thank you, Turnip!” Harry wondered if he will see the scarecrow again- he seems quite adamant on following them, though he had a hunch that it was probably Sophie he was following. Their meeting was no coincidence. As a witch once told him, there was no “coincidences”- there is only fate.


IX.

“My, this place is as much of a dump as ever,” Harry said as he surveyed his surroundings. “It’s the biggest bachelor pad around- and one of the worst kept too- right, Sophie?”

“Sophie?” Harry repeated when he heard no reply. He looked around the room only to find the girl seated in front of a fire, nearly asleep.

“Sophie, you shouldn’t fall asleep like that- you’ll wake up sore. I’m sure there’s a couch here somewhere… I’m just not sure if it’s clean enough for you to sleep on,” Harry grimaced. He glared at the mold in the corner- it shrank back. Given that it was magical mold, Harry wasn’t too surprised that it was sentient.

“You should listen to that guy over there. Besides, that is one nasty curse on you- you’ll feel the aches of a granny on top of looking like one too. You’ll have a really hard time getting rid of that one.” a voice came from the hearth.

“The fire spoke,” Sophie whispered in surprise. She was still sore from her hike, and the warmth from fire felt quite nice. She leaned closer to examine the glowing ball of gas.

“Let me guess- it stops you from talking about it,” the fire continued.

“Don’t ask what you already know,” Harry replied calmly, still trying to find a clean spot somewhere.

“Hey, I just wanted to confirm,” the fire said defensively.

“Who are you?” Sophie asked. “Are you Howl?”

“No, Howl has more class. Way more class.” Harry said automatically without turning around. He grunted as he turned over a chair and sent a family of mice fleeing for their lives.

At the same time, the fire replied “No, I am a great fire demon named Calcifer!” Calcifer even spat out a lick of violet flame for extra effect. “ I just feel like doing that every once in a while.”

“Practically every time there’s a visitor,” Harry muttered. “He’s no great demon- just a back chatting ball of gas,” Harry said to Sophie, completely ignoring Calcifer’s existence.

“Hey I heard that,” Calcifer protested.

“You were meant to,” Harry retorted, not missing a beat. “You haven’t changed since the last time I was here.”

Calcifer squinted his beady eyes at the magician before him. Moments passed before Harry decided to take pity on the poor demon and let his magic swim closer to the surface of his skin.

“Harry? You’re still alive? I haven’t seen you in ages!” The fire demon shrunk back in surprise.

“Unless you know anyone else who likes to show up unannounced in the middle of the night,” Harry said with a small smirk. “I don’t die easily”- or at all, he mentally amended.

Before Sophie could start firing questions, he shooed her off to bed and dug around in his pack for a blanket. While he couldn’t find a clean spot, he busied himself with making one. Thankfully, the floor was not beyond redemption (and a strong scrogify, now that Howl’s pile of junk was there to mute his magical signature). He pulled out the same one that they used earlier in the day and tucked Sophie in. Once he was sure that she was asleep, Harry dragged up another blanket and curled up on the chair in front of Calcifer.

“That’s even worse for your back, you know,” Calcifer said in a low tone, careful not to wake Sophie.

“Oh hush. You’ve gotten soft for a demon; you’re awfully nice not to kick us out,” Harry pointed out.

“I wouldn’t kick you out- the old Granny maybe,” Calcifer turned his nose up as much as a ball of fire could.

“You didn’t even recognize me when I came in,” Harry scoffed. “No, it’s because of Sophie that you’re so compliant. And why is that, I wonder?” Harry half teased, half asked.

Calcifer stilled. Why indeed.

Just as Harry was drifting between the boundary of wakefulness and sleep, he heard Calcifer say quietly,

“You haven’t changed at all in all these years. You didn’t even age.”


X.

Harry woke slowly to the sound of cracking eggs and sizzling bacon. A high pitched voice reached through his dreams. There was a child in the house? He thought, confused. It seems like Calcifer is spitting curses too, as usual.

Wait. Calcifer is letting Sophie cook? What?

The thought chased away the cobwebs in Harry’s mind faster than anything else.

“Sophie…?” Harry mumbled as he sat up and rubbed his eyes. It appears that Sophie had moved him to the sofa without him noticing. It was thankfully free of the sentient mold on the floor. Was he that tired?

“Ah, Harry, you’re up. Good morning,” Sophie said while turning over the bacon. “Your blanket fell while you were sleeping.”

Harry blinked. “Right, thanks Sophie.” He turned his attention to Sophie. “Calcifer, you let her cook?”

His sentiments were echoed by the child- who Harry assumed to be Howl’s apprentice. His lips twitched.  Sulliman’s old apprentice now has a little ankle biter of his own- how quaint. It seems just like yesterday when Howl himself was a bit older than the child, listening to Harry’s lectures on spell theory.

“Lady didn’t give me any choice,” the demon said crossly.

Harry raised an eyebrow. It seems like Calcifer was strangely responsive to Sophie. Now why is that? Surely her innate magic can’t be strong enough to bend the will of a demon. Magic requires direction as well as power; focusing components like wands or staves used for this purpose. Incantations and runic layouts serve to further direct magic. Therefore, an untaught novice like Sophie would not be able to initiate any magic of her own without training. She can react in defense to it, but to physically coerce a demon like Calcifer would be beyond her scope.

“Well, Sophie. I might as well teach you something about demons… Do you still have the eggshells from the eggs?” Harry asked. Sophie nodded, picking up the discarded shells next to the hearth.

“Great. First rule about demons- when you ask them to do something, you have to give them a sacrifice. For breakfast, leftovers or eggshells will suffice. The better the sacrifice, the better the work,” Harry lectured as he tossed Calcifer the egg shells and the ends of the bacon.

“You know magic, Mister?” The child asked curiously and inched closer. Curiosity is always a good trait in an apprentice, Harry thought with amusement.

Harry was saved from replying by the timely arrival of Howl. In an instant, the apprentice’s attention was diverted to his master, who looked worse for wear.

“Master Howl, the King’s messengers were here. They said you have to report to the palace as both Pendragon and Jenkins,” the boy said anxiously.

Harry suppressed a grimace- this was news to him, though the summons really shouldn’t be a surprise. Howl was bound under a magically binding oath (two, judging by the boy’s words)- he has to report, or else his magic will turn on him. And now, the oath was exerting double the pressure; Howl has no choice but to report.

Instead, Howl ignored the news altogether and headed upstairs- stopping only at the sight of Sophie cooking.

“Calcifer, you’re being so obedient,” he said mildly- a bit weakly, by Harry’s judgement. He must be rather used to having strangers in the house, if his lack of reaction was anything to go by.

“Not on purpose. She bullied me!” the fire sulked.

“Well, not just anybody can do that,” Howl said slowly. “And you are who…?”

“She’s with me,” Harry spoke up quickly before Sophie can fumble for an answer. Howl blinked in surprise, but not recognition. “Her name is Sophie. And my name is Harry,” he added the last part for the benefit of the apprentice and his dunderhead of a master. Howl’s expression tensed slightly in recognition, but he stayed quiet.

The boy bowed quickly, “My name is Marco. It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you too, Marco,” he smiled and patted the boy lightly on the head. He ignored Howl’s growing unease.

“It’s a long story,” Harry said when Howl’s attention switched from Sophie to him. “Sophie can pay for her keep with her housekeeping work. You already owe me several times over, so we’ll just all it even.” He paused for a moment. “Well, at least one thing hasn’t changed about this place. Your eternal bachelor pad is as much of a dump as ever.” He glared again at the mold. It squeaked in protest. How did the mold manage to grow vocal cords overnight?

“I’ll work for our keep,” Sophie insisted stubbornly, her hands at her hips. “And I can introduce myself well enough, young man.” Harry only rubbed his hair and sighed, not bothering to argue.

Howl observed the interaction with a hint of humor and accepted the answer at face value. He was pretty bad with this housekeeping thing- why bother when a simple spell can fix the castle up?

“Alright, well hand me three more slices of bacon and six more eggs,” Howl held out the pan to Sophie, having taken over breakfast duty.

“I’ll tell you more later,” Harry waved his hand. His mind was a tad suspicious- Howl accepted the story easily- perhaps a bit too easy. Now why was that? He wondered. “But I’m sure you’ll figure it yourself sooner or later. Thanks for cooking breakfast, Howl. Next time, I’ll try to wake up earlier and cook- you must be tired.” he said pointedly.

Howl ignored the implied meaning behind the magician’s words and instead asked for plates while Sophie insisted that she do the cooking. While Marco was busy with setting the table, Harry whispered to Howl,

“I’m not here as a magician, Howl, relax.” he said. “I quit ages ago- I haven’t used magic in decades- except maybe for minor spells- and I intend to keep things that way.”

“So what do you do now?” He asked, the tension in his shoulders easing.

“Besides hide from Sulliman? I own an antique shop,” Harry shrugged.

Howl chuckled at that. “I’m sure you must have plenty of those. I’m surprised you managed to escape her for so long. I thought for sure that when you left…” he left his statement trailing while dishing out the bacon and eggs.

“I suppressed my magic completely; Sulliman can’t track me down by my magical signature if I gave off no magical energy,” Harry shrugged. “Even Calcifer didn’t recognize me at first, and he’s a demon.”

Howl raised an eyebrow, looking mildly impressed at the feat Harry accomplished.  Harry merely rolled his eyes and took the plates of eggs and bacon. “It’s going to take a lot more than that to kill me.”

“Come eat with us, Sophie, Harry,” Marco called out while setting the table.


XI.

“Sophie,” Harry coughed. “What Merlin’s name are you doing?” He asked, baffled. He haphazardly dodged another dust bunny that came drifting his way.

“Cleaning,” she replied with fervor. Her words were muffled by the scarf she wore around her mouth.  She didn’t even bother to ask who Merlin was.

“Right…” Harry mumbled as he inched out of the way. He stopped to move some magical texts away from her rough handling. He helpfully stepped on the fleeing mold on his way out. “You are not getting away this time,” Harry said.

“Marco, I think we had better clean the books outside,” Harry suggested. “Well away from that,” he pointed. There were some places where the male gender just do not go- into the warpath of a furious female would be one of them.

The poor boy could only nod mutely.

Text after text, Harry levitated them all out to “Jenkin’s” storefront.

“How are you doing that?” Marco asked curiously when he saw Harry levitate the heavy tomes with ease.

“Oh this? It’s a simple levitation spell. Has Howl not taught you this yet?” Harry asked, flicking his wand once more.

“No, I have never seen anything like it,” Marco shook his head, his eyes following the trajectory of the book that defied physics. He set the books in his arms down on the floor and watched the books do flips in midair.

“Well, if you want to learn, I can teach you…” Harry began. Suddenly, he was on the receiving end of the dreaded puppy eyes of doom. Harry twitched.


XII.

“Sophie, you can’t leave Calcifer without wood like that,” Harry scolded. He picked up a log and shredded off a large splinter for the fire demon to munch on.

Howl, who had woken up due to the commotion, nodded in thanks and returned the fire demon to the hearth.

“Marco, make sure the cleaning lady doesn’t get too enthusiastic while I’m gone,” Howl said. In the span of a night, he changed from worn and tired to sparkling and handsome. Harry was used to Howl’s vanity and ignored the change. Instead, he wondered just exactly where Howl was going. He remained quiet as Howl turned the doorknob to the black slot and leapt into an abyss that smelled of fire and brimstone.

It was strange, Harry thought, that Howl would be dressed to the nines for a war.


XIII.

“Calcifer, you really are getting soft in your age- to be so motivated from a mere comment,” Harry snorted as he fed Calcifer bits of his magic.

“It’s not me,” he insisted, mumbling around the shreds of magic. “There’s something about that lady. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something about her.”

“You don’t have any fingers in the first place. Sophie… she has magic- she just doesn’t know she does yet,” Harry mused.

“She what?” Calcifer gasped, momentarily too surprised to take offense to Harry’s comment.

“Surely you don’t think I followed her all the way to the Wastes in the middle of the night out of the goodness of my heart,” Harry said, propping his head up with his hands. “No, her raw potential is even greater than Howl’s- greater than Sulliman’s, even. I would be a fool to let her throw that away.”

Calcifer gaped. “That demented old lady?”

“Come now, we both know that her state is actually Howl’s fault,” Harry pointed out. “Sophie has one of the kindest hearts I have ever seen. She’s incredibly powerful precisely because her intentions are pure, and magic is all about intentions. She will be great one day if she can get proper training.”

“Great enough to call you out of retirement?” Calcifer asked skeptically.

Harry chuckled. “You make me sound so old, Calcifer. Yes, enough to call me out of retirement. I vowed to never take an apprentice after how my last one turned out, but maybe I’ll make an exception for Sophie. She is a person who causes change in those around her.” Harry’s expression darkened at the thought of his last apprentice.

Calcifer blinked in surprise. “You are old,” he said bluntly.

“Perhaps,” Harry shrugged. “I should probably go and make sure she doesn’t blow anything up if she’s cleaning Howl’s bathroom. I hope she has the sense not to mess with his beauty products.”

Calcifer shrunk on himself slightly. “Yeah Howl wouldn’t like that.”

“No kidding,” Harry shook his head. “You won’t believe what a meek little girl she was before that curse- shy as a mouse and twice as quiet. If there’s one thing this spell did, it brought out her inner confidence.  Are you sure you’re not reacting to her because of Howl’s heart?”

Calcifer turned pink. Harry just snickered.


XIV.

Howl closed the front door quietly as he staggered to the chair in front of Calcifer.

“You’re back; welcome back,” a voice greeted him from the shadows. He panicked, suddenly worried about anyone seeing him in his state. His nerves were still frayed; he leapt out of his chair, a spell on his lips.

“Calm down- your vanity is suffocating me. Drink this- it will help with the pain of the transformation.” A potion was shoved under his nose; he recognized the voice and drank the foul concoction obediently. A gentle, but firm, hand guided him back to his chair.

“Harry,” he croaked weakly, ignoring the jab at his personality. “You’re awake at this hour?”

“Yes, it’s me. How could I not wake up when you were leaking magic everywhere? It might as well be a fire siren to my senses.” Harry touched Howl lightly on the shoulder, the first syllable of a healing spell already on his lips.

“You smell terrible. You shouldn’t keep flying around like that- sooner or later you won’t be able to turn back into a human,” Calcifer warned quietly.

“It’s getting harder and harder to transform now, right?” Harry asked solemnly, already knowing the answer. “Howl, you have to stop- otherwise your magic will turn on you, and you’ll lose yourself.”

“Harry, you don’t understand. This war is terrible. Everything from the Northern Coast to the Southern Border- it’s all in flames now,” Howl protested quietly.

“No, I understand plenty,” Harry’s tone was bone dry and weary. “I just wished I didn’t,” he turned away from the light.

“I can’t stand the fire and gunpowder. Those dopey guys have absolutely no manners,” Calcifer complained.

“I doubt they care about that,” Harry snorted.

“My own kind attacked me today,” Howl said with amusement.

“Who, the Witch of the Wastes?” Calcifer asked.

“No, that old hedge witch is nowhere near Howl’s level,” Harry snorted as he shoved a hot cup of tea at Howl with one hand and uncorked a bottle of healing salve with the other. The wizard warmed the water with a quick heating charm- doing it the old fashioned way would wake Sophie. With the vast magic of the castle acting as a buffer, Sulliman would be hard pressed to detect his spells.

“No, mad wizards who turned themselves into monsters for the king,” Howl replied and accepted the mug of tea with shaking hands.

Harry winced. He remembered the Unspeakable who created that spell. She lacked an innate animagus form and created a spell that was supposed to give her an artificial form. Instead, it turned her into a monster- an abomination. She lost her mind and had to be put down like a rabid beast. After the war and subsequent integration between the magical and muggle world, the Department of Mysteries was closed down- along with the rest of the Ministry- and their research was made public. Needless to say, a great portion of their work was used for nefarious purposes.

“Those wizards are going to regret doing that,” Calcifer said. “They’ll never change back into humans.”

“After the war, they won’t recall they ever were human,” Howl said grimly.

“No, they won’t,” Harry said, gently dabbing the bottle with a cotton ball. “I knew the person who created that spell,” he said slowly.

Both Howl and Calcifer turned to Harry in surprise. Harry refused to meet their eyes.

“Sometimes I forget how old you are,” he snickered tiredly, brushing a gray tinged hand over his face.

“Brat,” Harry made a face at the laughing magician. “I’m young enough to remember when you had your hair in a page boy cut.” Howl stopped laughing immediately. This time, Calcifer laughed.

“She was an Unspeakable- back before the Merge happened, certain wizards and witches worked with the government to research spells and magic- some three hundred years ago. She wanted to achieve something called an animagus transformation- the magic is nonverbal, very difficult, highly regulated, and quite dangerous. It turns the wizard- or the magician, in modern terms- into an animal while keeping their minds intact. The animal they turn into is determined at birth, and she didn’t have one. So in her frustration, she created a spell that would give her an artificial form… except that spell turned her into a monster without a mind. She had to be put down like a beast,” Harry’s eyes grew shadowed as he remembered the auror team that was sent to deal with her. It was hard for everyone to see one of their own turn into a mindless creature of rage.

Howl and Calcifer exchanged unreadable glances.

“I believe the proper way to become an animagus has been lost with time,” Harry said with a shaky breath. “What you- and everyone else is using- is that spell. It’s a bastardization of the true process of animagus transformation. But even with the proper way of doing animagus transformations, staying in that form for prolonged periods of time… changes the wizard. My godfather was a dog animagus- a great big black dog- he stayed in that form for a couple of years, and his laugh sounded more like a bark. Another man- stayed in his form- a rat- for more than a decade. At the end of it all, he was more rat than man.”

Harry sighed and patted Howl’s head like he did when they met for the first time at Howl’s uncle’s cottage. The magician was just a boy then- all wide eyes and innocence and curiosity. He gently applied the salve to the scrapes on Howl’s face (Merlin forbid if his face scarred. Howl would probably melt into a puddle of goo in horror.) “You are strong, for resisting that spell as long as you did. But even so, it wears on everyone after a while.  I don’t want to lose you like I did all my other students. You were never mine, but given how my last student turned out, you were probably the best thing that came from her .”

Harry’s voice was soft, and his eyes held a deep pain within them that spoke volumes of his age.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Howl said quietly.

“No, I misjudged her- now I carry the weight of my decision every day. I regret it with every fiber of my being. How many people have I killed- through that one decision? I disappeared from the magic world because I didn’t want to face my decision,” Harry said bitterly. “I’m a coward of the greatest magnitude.”

Howl didn’t have anything to say to that.

“Howl, you’re powerful for a magician, but you’re only one person. You’ll wear yourself down like this,” Harry said.

“I can’t let this war continue,” he argued back.

“Let’s say that this war ends- so what? Give this place another ten- fifteen- years, and you’ll have another one on your hands. Howl, what one person can do is limited. You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.” Harry sighed and reached for a roll of bandages.

“It’s better than nothing. Not all civilians want the war.” Howl said quietly.

“I’ve long since given up on humanity,” Harry said plainly. Before his patient could argue back, he continued. “But the next time you do something this stupid, I’m going with you. I am not about to let you get killed- not if I can help it.”

Howl smiled weakly in surprise.

“Hey, aren’t you supposed to report to the king?” Calcifer asked Howl. The demon turned to Harry. “Haven’t you already been called?”

“He has to- I don’t,” Harry answered. “I can report on your behalf, Howl. They can’t force me to work for them- I’m not magically bound with that thrice-cursed oath. Granted, any king would probably bend over backwards to get me in his service.” He flashed the man- now vaguely resembling a mummy- a too-wide grin.

 “I’m tired. Calcifer, make hot water for my bath in the morning.” Howl dodged the question and tried to get up. His joints were bound tight with bandages. He frowned- Harry was being abnormally talkative- and nice. Perhaps the man has changed from the cold, assessing mage he once knew, but that grin looked out of place- too big and too stiff. Like he was hiding something behind it.

Howl paused at the curtain covering the sofa. He brushed it aside lightly and stilled at the sight of Sophie sleeping quietly.

“Do you remember her?” Harry asked behind him. “Sophie, that is.”

“Yes,” Howl said, his tone puzzled. “From now and from… before.”

The response gave Harry a pause. From before? “Funny thing is, I only know her because I moved across the street from her. Her sister was after me- as always,” Harry sighed.

Howl chuckled tiredly. Harry’s continued “misfortune” was as much of a running joke between the two of them as Howl’s vanity was. “I don’t understand. Why ever would you run away?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Not everyone is like you, Romeo. I guess you’ve realized what happened to her now?”

Howl nodded, but his gaze never left Sophie. Harry noticed that and sighed.

“Then you know that it’s your fault she ended up this way. Luckily, this curse isn’t unbreakable. Howl, she is pure and innocent- don’t hurt her,” Harry warned strictly. “Or else I’ll come after you. And trust me, you wouldn’t want that.”

Howl took one look at Harry’s nearly glow-in-the-dark green eyes and suppressed a shiver. No, indeed, he wouldn’t.


XV.

The next morning, Harry was woken by the loud sound of a water faucet opening.

Darn that vainglorious peacock of a brat, he thought. Waking me up this early in the morning. Harry yawned and saw that Sophie was also awake.

“What time is it?” Harry asked groggily.

“Just a bit before seven. Is Howl back?” She asked. Seven, Harry mouthed repeatedly in horror. Sophie ignored him.

“Yeah, wasting all my hot water like always,” Calcifer complained.

“Do you know anyone else who would take a hot shower at seven in the morning? Knowing that guy, he’ll probably soak for the next three hours,” Harry grumbled as he got up. “Don’t bother making breakfast until half past nine- it’ll just get cold.”

“Calcifer, can I mooch some of that hot water for coffee? You can have the grounds afterwards,” Harry stumbled to the kitchen, still half asleep.

“Sure,” the fire said.

Sophie looked at Harry’s unruly hair (it was sticking up at all angles possible), and then back at Calcifer before dissolving into giggles. 

“What are you laughing at?” Harry grumbled under his breath. He attempted to smooth down his hair, which only made Sophie laugh more.


XVI.

After breakfast, Sophie insisted on doing shopping, as the food in the house had spoiled.

“I don’t see why you would bother anyways- Master Howl hardly eats.” Marco complained.

“You mean he eats like a bird,” Harry snickered at his own joke, much to Marco and Sophie’s confusion. He waved away their odd looks. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“You need the food, Marco. You’re a growing boy,” Sophie insisted, momentarily ignoring the odd wizard.

“She’s right, you know,” Harry agreed as he began picking out tomatoes with the speed of an expert. Even the old lady from down the street was staring at Harry’s tomato picking expertise. It was impressive to see. One never knows when the tides change. Besides, he smelled gunpowder in the distance.

Once the tomatoes were done, he moved onto the eggs and bread. He didn’t even wait for Marco to pay- he had enough money to last him for the next couple of millennia- easily.

“Sophie, hurry with the fish,” Harry insisted while grabbing two bundles of asparagus and a box of onions.

“What are you in such a hurry for?” Sophie asked, seeing Harry buy a large bag of mushrooms on top of all the groceries he already bought. She listened and purchased the fish with haste.

“That is why I told you to hurry,” Harry said pointedly as a badly damaged warship pulled into the harbors- the SS Queen Anne. He could hear the frenzied cries of the soldiers as they all abandoned ship, eager to be rid of the war. All the ones who jumped will be court martialed, Harry thought ironically. They’ll be dead by the end of the month. Moments later, bombs from an enemy warship dropped into the harbor. Those who escape court martial will perish soon enough, one way or another. The warship dropped pamphlets upon pamphlets of the missing and the dead- of which there are too much on both sides. Bile rose and forced its way to Harry’s throat.

“Come, it’s time to go,” Harry echoed emotionlessly as he dragged the two away. His eyes were glazed with the horrors of the past.

“Harry, the Witch of the Waste’s henchmen are here,” Sophie hissed.

“That third rated hag, is a nuisance and not worth the space she takes up,” Harry snarled, momentarily blinded by his memories. His viridian eyes glowed with power as he layered on Notice-Me-Not charms and Disillusionment charms on Sophie and Marco. Their breath hitched, feeling the powerful blanket of magic settle over them. “She won’t catch wind of us- I made you two invisible and unable to be noticed.”

Sophie nodded in gratitude but shook slightly in fear. She never realized that Harry had such a side to him. He was powerful- very much so; she has never felt such power in her life.

When they arrived back at the castle, Marco put away the groceries dutifully while Sophie sat near the fire to catch her breath. She shot a concerned look at Harry, who sat on the couch, curled up with one hand pinching the bridge of his nose, looking worse for wear.

Without warning, a loud cry of anguish broke the uneasy silence. It rang throughout the house and even shook the windows. A loud thump and the sound of a door opening followed.

Harry jumped up at the sound of Howl’s panicked screams… only to see an auburn haired Howl trip his way down the stairs clad only in a towel.

“Sophie, you sabotaged me! Look! Look what you’ve done to my hair!?” Howl screamed in agony.

“What a pretty color,” Sophie said serenely.

Harry blinked… and blinked some more. Then his lips twitched. He howled with laughter. “Oh man, Sophie, this is great. So that’s what you did to that sewer of a bathroom. Howl, your hair looks fine. You could be bald, and you will still have girls tripping over themselves to land you in bed.” With that, he toppled over the couch, laugher coming in great whoops.

“That may  be true, but that’s not the point! It’s hideous! You completely ruined the potions in the bathroom!” Howl wailed dramatically, not noticing his swelling ego.

“I just organized things,” Sophie said nicely. “Nothing’s ruined.”

“I specifically ordered you not to get carried away! Everything’s ruined… I can’t live like this,” Howl sulked.

“Oh don’t be a baby,” Harry scoffed, leaning over a wall to catch his breath. “It will only take you another day to turn your hair back to blonde. You looked better with your natural color, but auburn’s not a bad color on you.”

“I give up- I see no point in living if I can’t be beautiful,” Howl announced with acting skills a queen would envy. His hair turned a variety of colors, ending with coal black. He ignored the snarky immortal in front of him.

“He’s calling the spirits of darkness,” Marco gasped as the castle began to distort, and shadows grew strange. “He did this once when a girl dumped him.”

Harry snickered. “A girl actually dumped him?”

Marco nodded, his eyes wide and still glued to Howl’s dissolving form. “Yeah, he was upset for weeks!”

Harry laughed . “Oh man, I would have paid to see that.”

“You wouldn’t have wanted to be there, Harry,” Calcifer said, keeping a wary eye on the direction of the goo. “It was awful.”

“I bet,” Harry grinned, entirely too cheerful.

“It’s not that bad,” Sophie turned to comfort Howl. “We’ll just dye your hair back again.” She recoiled in horror as Howl’s goo form stuck to her hand and her dress. “Fine! You think you’ve got it bad? I’ve never once been beautiful in my entire life! I’ve had enough of this place,” she cried and rushed out into the Wastes.

Harry bit his lips with the urge not to laugh and not to hit the overdramatic man in the head. In the end, his sense of responsibility overtook both.

“Expecto patronum,” he sighed as Progs flew out from the tip of his wand. “Set this place straight, Progs. None of this idiocy.”

Marco gasped at the powerful light spell. “Wow, what is this magic? Can I touch him?”

“Sure,” Harry shrugged as Progs playfully butted Marco with his antlers. The child squealed. “This is called a Patronus. It is from the spell Expecto Patronum, which requires a very strong positive memory. It chases away all evil and dark spirits, as you can see,” Harry lectured, settling into his “teacher mode”. Marco settled down cautiously next to the glowing buck and patted his antlers in awe. In truth, Progs could eat these little baby spirits for dinner. They were nothing compared to dementors.

He gave Progs another couple of minutes to round up the spirits before addressing the dazzled apprentice.

“Well now that is done, let’s get Sophie back inside. Marco, there should be a jacket over by the counter you can take to her,” Harry requested. The boy nodded and quickly dragged a bedraggled Sophie back in. He looked down at the doorway to see Marco helping Sophie up the stairs. Turniphead the Scarecrow was nowhere in sight. How odd of Sophie to leave him there in the rain, Harry thought.

“Sophie, you’ll catch your death in this cold,” Harry scolded as he summoned a towel. He began to towel Sophie’s hair off.

“Howl, cut it out! I’m going to drown, I’m drowning!” Calcifer shouted desperately as Howl’s goo-form started to melt before the fire.

“That is enough of that,” Harry said firmly and formed a liquid repelling ward around Calcifer. One issue taken care of and a thousand more to go.

“Merlin, Morgana, and Circe. Small mercies,” the fire breathed and huddled away from the wave of goo.

“Such drama,” Sophie sighed as she wrung water out of her dress. “Come give me a hand, Marco.”

“No, Sophie. You’re sopping wet, and I won’t have you get even more soaked with disgusting goo. You won’t be the only person working in this household anymore,” Harry put a hand on Sophie’s shoulder.

“Besides, there’s no need to do manual labor when magic will suffice. Allow me- Wingardium Leviosa”- Harry easily levitated Howl up the stairs- at this point he considered the mage to be more of an amorphous solid and less of a physical body.

“Marco, the hot water,” Sophie pointed out from her chair, determined to actually do something to fix the situation.

“There’s no need,” Harry shouted from the stairs. “I’ll handle this.”

Without further ado, Harry flung Howl into the bathtub without a care in the world and turned the hot water tap on high. The water splashed out in a tsunami wave. “You deserve the bruises, you overdramatic bastard! Now, get clean before I reverse that spell and stuff all your pores with that ridiculous goo! You’ll spend the next decade exfoliating that precious skin of yours if you don’t clean up right this moment!” He closed the door with the loud bang. Harry uncapped and upturned a whole bottle of detergent into the bath.

From her seat in the living room, Sophie heard a muffled yelp and the sound of gargling bubbles. Giggling, she moved to clean up the goo around the hearth.


“Sophie…?” Harry asked hesitantly as he flipped though one of Howl’s many magical texts. He was perusing Howl’s rather extensive library of library texts; it wasn’t like there was much else for him to do. “Howl…? What in the name of Morgana and Merlin is going on?”

When Sophie warmed some milk to take to Howl, Harry didn’t mind her in the slightest. He knew that the magician would most likely refuse- being the child he is. However, what he didn’t expect was Sophie emerging half an hour later with an obviously magicked dress and Howl clad in nothing but a blanket. He would give Howl a benefit of a doubt before he started nailing the boy’s hide to the nearest wall.

“I’m reporting to the King on Howl’s behalf as Pendragon’s mother because my “son” is too cowardly to do so. I’ll tell this Sulliman or whoever that he refuses his duty,” Sophie said.

Harry’s jaw dropped to the floor. The heavy tome of spells slipped from his grasp. Of all the harebrained ideas…

“Howl, you honestly believe that this will work?” Harry asked skeptically. “Actually, don’t answer that.” Harry pushed aside his chair with a sigh and picked up the fallen book. He pinched the bridge of his nose for a brief moment and said to himself “I’m too old for this.”

“We know,” Howl snickered tiredly.

“Shush, you,” Harry glared.

“I’m not going to let Sophie walk into Sulliman’s clutches alone,” Harry declared- (“That is so comforting,” Sophie muttered sarcastically in the background). “Howl, if you insist on this idiocy, then I’m going to have to go as your uncle. I remember what he looks like, so my presence should give Sophie’s cover some credence. And someone has to be there to bail you out if this all goes to hell.” After a moment, Harry added, “and it probably will.”

Howl considered the statement before agreeing. They both knew that his uncle was dead, but given Harry’s magical power, he can easily fool the guards. Besides, this was Sulliman they were talking about. Extra protection for Sophie was not unwarranted, given the situation.

“Alright, give me a moment to transfigure myself into your uncle. Help me out here? I forgot the exact measurement of his waistline.” Harry pulled out his wand and began muttering disguise charms. He flashed through a multitude of looks and ages in a matter of moments.

“The nose is crooked- he broke his in a bar fight over a pair of redhead twins,” Howl pointed, still clutching to his blanket.

“Ah, thanks,” Harry screwed his eyes shut, and the nose bent itself into a slight lump. Well, at least now he knew where Howl got his tendencies from.

“Transfiguration?” Sophie asked, a bit startled by the magic. Meanwhile, Marco crowed in delight and gathered to watch.

“He had streaks of grey hair on his temples,” Howl recalled.

“Transfiguration,” Harry paused to fix his hair, “is the art of transforming one thing to another, in the simplest of terms. So the typical magican tricks, like turning a lily into a rabbit, would be transfiguration. It is quite handy for disguises, but transfigured changes do not last. Typically, the stronger the magician, the longer lasting the change. Even with the most advanced transfiguration, it is inadvisable to remain in the form for more than a month, tops. Also, transfiguring changes the appearance and physical characteristics of the item, but the actual nature of the item does not change. For example, if I turned a rock into a loaf of bread and ate it, I would be eating the rock and not the bread.”

Marco looked to be on the verge of jotting down notes.

“I see,” Sophie mulled over the information. Magic does have a strange sense of logic to it, to her relief and surprise.

“There, done.” Harry looked at his disguise in the mirror. In the place of a fit young man barely out of his twenties was a potbellied, middle aged, magician. “Howl, you are lucky I am nowhere near as vain as you are. But even so, you owe me for this.”

Sophie suppressed a laugh.

“Alright, let’s get going,” Harry sighed- even his voice changed from a light tenor to a heavier bass.

“Take care of him, Marco,” Sophie said.

“Good luck,” Calcifer called.

“Wait- this charm will guarantee your safe return. I’ll follow behind you in disguise. Now off you go!” Howl swooped down like a bat and slipped a ring on Sophie’s index finger. Harry frowned contemplatively at Howl’s gesture. It was rare to see the magician so taken with a girl; a suspicion began to form in the corner of his mind.

“I’ll keep Sophie safe for you” Harry called as he left the castle. He held out his hand- absently checking the spells in that ring, and also making sure that it wasn’t over Sophie’s ring finger- and off they went.

Harry’s protective streak ran a mile wide. Of that, Howl as no doubt. He avoided her ring finger for a reason.


Mandy: This is actually a story that started almost a year ago after watching Howl’s Moving Castle. I’ll probably upload this in three chunks (maybe a total of around 30k words), but I have the majority of it (23k) already written and edited, so it shouldn’t take too long. This is one of the many stories that have been sitting around on my hard drive for too long, so I decided to upload it (partly  because it makes reading it on my phone much easier). Anyways, I hope you guys liked it thus far. I didn’t want to upload it until I was fully done since my update times are usually terrible (as my old readers know), but I wanted to give myself a reason to write the final scenes of the story.

The title of this fic, Iris, is from the song that the Goo Goo Dolls wrote; I couldn’t think of a good title and summary, and I had Iris stuck in my head anyways.