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Howl's Moving Castle

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Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl's castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there's far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

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Diana Wynne Jones



This one is for Stephen

The idea for this book was suggested by a boy in a school I was visiting, who asked me to write a book called The Moving Castle.

I wrote down his name, and put it in such a safe place, that I have been unable to find it ever since.

I would like to thank him very much.



Title Page


Chapter One


Chapter Two


Chapter Three


Chapter Four


Chapter Five


Chapter Six


Chapter Seven


Chapter Eight


Chapter Nine


Chapter Ten


Chapter Eleven


Chapter Twelve


Chapter Thirteen


Chapter Fourteen


Chapter Fifteen


Chapter Sixteen


Chapter Seventeen


Chapter Eighteen


Chapter Nineteen


Chapter Twenty


Chapter Twenty-One


Excerpt from The Merlin Conspiracy

Chapter One

Excerpt from Dark Lord of Derkholm

Chapter One

Excerpt from Archer’s Goon

Chapter One

About the Author



About the Publisher

Chapter One


In the land of Ingary, where su; ch things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

Sophie Hatter was the eldest of three sisters. She was not even the child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some chance of success! Her parents were well to do and kept a ladies’ hat shop in the prosperous town of Market Chipping. True, her own mother died when Sophie was two years old and her sister Lettie was one year old, and their father married his youngest shop assistant, a pretty blonde girl called Fanny. Fanny shortly gave birth to the third sister, Martha. This ought to have made Sophie and Lettie into Ugly Sisters, but in fact all three girls grew up very pretty indeed, though Lettie was the one everyone said was most beautiful. Fanny treated all three girls with the same kindness and did not favor Martha in the least.

Mr. Hatter was proud of his three daughters and sent them all to the best school in town. Sophie was the most studious. She read a great deal, and very soon realized how little chance she had of an interesting future. It was a disappointment to her, but she was still happy enough, looking after her sisters and grooming Martha to seek her fortune when the time came. Since Fanny was always busy in the shop, Sophie was the one who looked after the younger two. There was a certain amount of screaming and hair-pulling between those younger two. Lettie was by no means resigned to being the one who, next to Sophie, was bound to be the least successful.

“It’s not fair!” Lettie would shout. “Why should Martha have the best of it just because she was born the youngest? I shall marry a prince, so there!”

To which Martha always retorted that she would end up disgustingly rich without having to marry anybody.

Then Sophie would have to drag them apart and mend their clothes. She was very deft with her needle. As time went on, she made clothes for her sisters too. There was one deep rose outfit she made for Lettie, the May Day before this story really starts, which Fanny said looked as if it had come from the most expensive shop in Kingsbury.

About this time everyone began talking of the Witch of the Waste again. It was said the Witch had threatened the life of the King’s daughter and that the King had commanded his personal magician, Wizard Suliman, to go into the Waste and deal with the Witch. And it seemed that Wizard Suliman had not only failed to deal with the Witch: he had got himself killed by her.

So when, a few months after that, a tall black castle suddenly appeared on the hills above Market Chipping, blowing clouds of black smoke from its four tall, thin turrets, everybody was fairly sure that the Witch had moved out of the Waste again and was about to terrorize the country the way she used to fifty years ago. People got very scared indeed. Nobody went out alone, particularly at night. What made it all the scarier was that the castle did not stay in the same place. Sometimes it was a tall black smudge on the moors to the northwest, sometimes it reared above the rocks to the east, and sometimes it came right downhill to sit in the heather only just beyond the last farm to the north. You could see it actually moving sometimes, with smoke pouring out from the turrets in dirty gray gusts. For a while everyone was certain that the castle would come right down into the valley before long, and the Mayor talked of sending to the King for help.

But the castle stayed roving about the hills, and it was learned that it did not belong to the Witch but to Wizard Howl. Wizard Howl was bad enough. Though he did not seem to want to leave the hills, he was known to amuse himself by collecting young girls and sucking the souls from them. Or some people said he ate their hearts. He was an utterly cold-blooded and heartless wizard and no young girl was safe from him if he caught her on her own. Sophie, Lettie, and Martha, along with all the other girls in Market Chipping, were warned never to go out alone, which was a great annoyance to them. They wondered what use Wizard Howl found for all the souls he collected.

They had other things on their minds before long, however, for Mr. Hatter died suddenly just as Sophie was old enough to leave school for good. It then appeared that Mr. Hatter had been altogether too proud of his daughters. The school fees he had been paying had left the shop with quite heavy debts. When the funeral was over, Fanny sat down in the parlor in the house next door to the shop and explained the situation.

“You’ll all have to leave that school, I’m afraid,” she said. “I’ve been doing sums back and front and sideways, and the only way I can see to keep the business going and take care of the three of you is to see you all settled in a promising apprenticeship somewhere. It isn’t practical to have you all in the shop. I can’t afford it. So this is what I’ve decided. Lettie first—”

Lettie looked up, glowing with health and beauty which even sorrow and black clothes could not hide. “I want to go on learning,” she said.

“So you shall, love,” said Fanny. “I’ve arranged for you to be apprenticed to Cesari’s, the pastry cook in Market Square. They’ve a name for treating their learners like kings and queens, and you should be very happy there, as well as learning a useful trade. Mrs. Cesari’s a good customer and a good friend, and she’s agreed to squeeze you in as a favor.”

Lettie laughed in the way that showed she was not at all pleased. “Well, thank you,” she said. “Isn’t it lucky that I like cooking?”

Fanny looked relieved. Lettie could be awkwardly strong-minded at times. “Now Martha,” she said. “I know you’re full young to go out to work, so I’ve thought round for something that would give you a long, quiet apprenticeship and go on being useful to you whatever you decide to do after that. You know my old school friend Annabel Fairfax?”

Martha, who was slender and fair, fixed her big gray eyes on Fanny almost as strong-mindedly as Lettie. “You mean the one who talks such a lot,” she said. “Isn’t she a witch?”

“Yes, with a lovely house and clients all over the Folding Valley,” Fanny said eagerly. “She’s a good woman, Martha. She’ll teach you all she knows and very likely introduce you to grand people she knows in Kingsbury. You’ll be all set up in life when she’s done with you.”

“She’s a nice lady,” Martha conceded. “All right.”

Sophie, listening, felt that Fanny had worked everything out just as it should be. Lettie, as the second daughter, was never likely to come to much, so Fanny had put her where she might meet a handsome young apprentice and live happily ever after. Martha, who was bound to strike out and make her fortune, would have witchcraft and rich friends to help her. As for Sophie herself, Sophie had no doubt what was coming. It did not surprise her when Fanny said, “Now, Sophie dear, it seems only right and just that you should inherit the hat shop when I retire, being the eldest as you are. So I’ve decided to take you on as apprentice myself, to give you a chance to learn the trade. How do you feel about that?”

Sophie could hardly say that she simply felt resigned to the hat trade. She thanked Fanny gratefully.

“So that’s settled then!” Fanny said.

The next day Sophie helped Martha pack her clothes in a box, and the morning after that they all saw her off on the carrier’s cart, looking small and upright and nervous. For the way to Upper Folding, where Mrs. Fairfax lived, lay over the hills past Wizard Howl’s moving castle. Martha was understandably scared.

“She’ll be all right,” said Lettie. Lettie refused all help with the packing. When the carrier’s cart was out of sight, Lettie crammed all her possessions into a pillow case and paid the neighbor’s bootboy sixpence to wheel it in a wheelbarrow to Cesari’s in Market Square. Lettie marched behind the wheelbarrow looking much more cheerful than Sophie expected. Indeed, she had the air of shaking the dust of the hat shop off her feet.

The bootboy brought back a scribbled note from Lettie, saying she had put her things in the girls’ dormitory and Cesari’s seemed great fun. A week later the carrier brought a letter from Martha to say that Martha had arrived safely and that Mrs. Fairfax was “a great dear and uses honey with everything. She keeps bees.” That was all Sophie heard of her sisters for quite a while, because she started her own apprenticeship the day Martha and Lettie left.

Sophie of course knew the hat trade quite well already. Since she was a tiny child she had run in and out of the big workshed across the yard where the hats were damped and molded on blocks, and flowers and fruit and other trimmings were made from wax and silk. She knew the people who worked there. Most of them had been there when her father was a boy. She knew Bessie, the only remaining shop assistant. She knew the customers who bought the hats and the man who drove the cart which fetched raw straw hats in from the country to be shaped on the blocks in the shed. She knew the other suppliers and how you made felt for winter hats. There was not really much that Fanny could teach her, except perhaps the best way to get a customer to buy a hat.

“You lead up to the right hat, love,” Fanny said. “Show them the ones that won’t quite do first, so they know the difference as soon as they put the right one on.”

In fact, Sophie did not sell hats very much. After a day or so observing in the workshed, and another day going round the clothier and the silk merchant’s with Fanny, Fanny set her to trimming hats. Sophie sat in a small alcove at the back of the shop, sewing roses to bonnets and veiling to velours, lining all of them with silk and arranging wax fruit and ribbons stylishly on the outsides. She was good at it. She quite liked doing it. But she felt isolated and a little dull. The workshop people were too old to be much fun and, besides, they treated her as someone apart who was going to inherit the business someday. Bessie treated her the same way. Bessie’s only talk anyway was about the farmer she was going to marry the week after May Day. Sophie rather envied Fanny, who could bustle off to bargain with the silk merchant whenever she wanted.

The most interesting thing was the talk from the customers. Nobody can buy a hat without gossiping. Sophie sat in her alcove and stitched and heard that the Mayor never would eat green vegetables, and that Wizard Howl’s castle had moved round to the cliffs again, really that man, whisper, whisper, whisper.... The voices always dropped low when they talked of Wizard Howl, but Sophie gathered that he had caught a girl down the valley last month. “Bluebeard!” said the whispers, and then became voices again to say that Jane Farrier was a perfect disgrace the way she did her hair. That was one who would never attract even Wizard Howl, let alone a respectable man. Then there would be a fleeting, fearful whisper about the Witch of the Waste. Sophie began to feel that Wizard Howl and the Witch of the Waste should get together.

“They seem to be made for one another. Someone ought to arrange a match,” she remarked to the hat she was trimming at that moment.

But by the end of the month the gossip in the shop was suddenly all about Lettie. Cesari’s, it seemed, was packed with gentlemen from morning to night, each one buying quantities of cakes and demanding to be served by Lettie. She had had ten proposals of marriage, ranging in quality from the Mayor’s son to the lad who swept the streets, and she had refused them all, saying she was too young to make up her mind yet.

“I call that sensible of her,” Sophie said to a bonnet she was pleating silk into.

Fanny was pleased with this news. “I knew she’d be all right!” she said happily. It occurred to Sophie that Fanny was glad Lettie was no longer around.

“Lettie’s bad for custom,” she told the bonnet, pleating away at mushroom-colored silk. “She would make even you look glamorous, you dowdy old thing. Other ladies look at Lettie and despair.”

Sophie talked to hats more and more as weeks went by. There was no one else much to talk to. Fanny was out bargaining, or trying to whip up custom, much of the day, and Bessie was busy serving and telling everyone her wedding plans. Sophie got into the habit of putting each hat on its stand as she finished it, where it sat looking almost like a head without a body, and pausing while she told the hat what the body under it ought to be like. She flattered the hats a bit, because you should flatter customers.

“You have mysterious allure,” she told one that was all veiling with hidden twinkles. To a wide, creamy hat with roses under the brim she said, “You are going to have to marry money!” and to a caterpillar-green straw with a curly green feather she said, “You are young as a spring leaf.” She told pink bonnets they had dimpled charm and smart hats trimmed with velvet that they were witty. She told the mushroom-pleated bonnet, “You have a heart of gold and someone in a high position will see it and fall in love with you.” This was because she was sorry for that particular bonnet. It looked so fussy and plain.

Jane Farrier came into the shop next day and bought it. Her hair did look a little strange, Sophie thought, peeping out of her alcove, as if Jane had wound it round a row of pokers. It seemed a pity she had chosen that bonnet. But everyone seemed to be buying hats and bonnets around then. Maybe it was Fanny’s sales talk or maybe it was spring coming on, but the hat trade was definitely picking up. Fanny began to say, a little guiltily, “I think I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry to get Martha and Lettie placed out. At this rate we might have managed.”

There was so much custom as April drew on toward May Day that Sophie had to put on a demure gray dress and help in the shop too. But such was the demand that she was hard at trimming hats in between customers, and every evening she took them next door to the house, where she worked by lamplight far into the night in order to have hats to sell the next day. Caterpillar-green hats like the one the Mayor’s wife had were much called for, and so were pink bonnets. Then, the week before May Day, someone came in and asked for one with mushroom pleats like the one Jane Farrier had been wearing when she ran off with the Count of Catterack.

That night, as she sewed, Sophie admitted to herself that her life was rather dull. Instead of talking to the hats, she tried each one on as she finished it and looked in the mirror. This was a mistake. The staid gray dress did not suit Sophie, particularly when her eyes were red-rimmed with sewing, and, since her hair was a reddish straw color, neither did caterpillar green nor pink. The one with mushroom pleats simply made her look dreary. “Like an old maid!” said Sophie. Not that she wanted to race off with counts, like Jane Farrier, or even fancied half the town offering her marriage, like Lettie. But she wanted to do something—she was not sure what—that had a bit more interest to it than simply trimming hats. She thought she would find time next day to go and talk to Lettie.

But she did not go. Either she could not find the time, or she could not find the energy, or it seemed a great distance to Market Square, or she remembered that on her own she was in danger from Wizard Howl—anyway, every day it seemed more difficult to go and see her sister. It was very odd. Sophie had always thought she was nearly as strong-minded as Lettie. Now she was finding that there were some things she could only do when there were no excuses left. “This is absurd!” Sophie said. “Market Square is only two streets away. If I run—” And she swore to herself she would go round to Cesari’s when the hat shop was closed for May Day.

Meanwhile a new piece of gossip came into the shop. The King had quarreled with his own brother, Prince Justin, it was said, and the Prince had gone into exile. Nobody quite knew the reason for the quarrel, but the Prince had actually come through Market Chipping in disguise a couple of months back, and nobody had known. The Count of Catterack had been sent by the King to look for the Prince, when he happened to meet Jane Farrier instead. Sophie listened and felt sad. Interesting things did seem to happen, but always to somebody else. Still, it would be nice to see Lettie.

May Day came. Merrymaking filled the streets from dawn onward. Fanny went out early, but Sophie had a couple of hats to finish first. Sophie sang as she worked. After all, Lettie was working too. Cesari’s was open till midnight on holidays. “I shall buy one of their cream cakes,” Sophie decided. “I haven’t had one for ages.” She watched people crowding past the window in all kinds of bright clothes, people selling souvenirs, people walking on stilts, and felt really excited.

But when she at last put a gray shawl over her gray dress and went out into the street, Sophie did not feel excited. She felt overwhelmed. There were too many people rushing past, laughing and shouting, far too much noise and jostling. Sophie felt as if the past months of sitting and sewing had turned her into an old woman or a semi-invalid. She gathered her shawl round her and crept along close to the houses, trying to avoid being trodden on by people’s best shoes or being jabbed by elbows in trailing silk sleeves. When there came a sudden volley of bangs from overhead somewhere, Sophie thought she was going to faint. She looked up and saw Wizard Howl’s castle right down on the hillside above the town, so near it seemed to be sitting on the chimneys. Blue flames were shooting out of all four of the castle’s turrets, bringing balls of blue fire with them that exploded high in the sky, quite horrendously. Wizard Howl seemed to be offended by May Day. Or maybe he was trying to join in, in his own fashion. Sophie was too terrified to care. She would have gone home, except that she was halfway to Cesari’s by then. So she ran.

“What made me think I wanted life to be interesting?” she asked as she ran. “I’d be far too scared. It comes of being the eldest of three.”

When she reached Market Square, it was worse, if possible. Most of the inns were in the Square. Crowds of young men swaggered beerily to and fro, trailing cloaks and long sleeves and stamping buckled boots they would never have dreamed of wearing on a working day, calling loud remarks and accosting girls. The girls strolled in fine pairs, ready to be accosted. It was perfectly normal for May Day, but Sophie was scared of that too. And when a young man in a fantastical blue-and-silver costume spotted Sophie and decided to accost her as well, Sophie shrank into a shop doorway and tried to hide.

The young man looked at her in surprise. “It’s all right, you little gray mouse,” he said, laughing rather pityingly. “I only want to buy you a drink. Don’t look so scared.”

The pitying look made Sophie utterly ashamed. He was such a dashing specimen too, with a bony, sophisticated face—really quite old, well into his twenties—and elaborate blonde hair. His sleeves trailed longer than any in the Square, all scalloped edges and silver insets. “Oh, no thank you, if you please, sir,” Sophie stammered. “I—I’m on my way to see my sister.”

“Then by all means do so,” laughed this advanced young man. “Who am I to keep a pretty lady from her sister? Would you like me to go with you, since you seem so scared?”

He meant it kindly, which made Sophie more ashamed than ever. “No. No thank you, sir!” she gasped and fled away past him. He wore perfume too. The smell of hyacinths followed her as she ran. What a courtly person! Sophie thought, as she pushed her way between the little tables outside Cesari’s.

The tables were packed. Inside was packed and as noisy as the Square. Sophie located Lettie among the line of assistants at the counter because of the group of evident farmers’ sons leaning their elbows on it to shout remarks to her. Lettie, prettier than ever and perhaps a little thinner, was putting cakes into bags as fast as she could go, giving each bag a deft little twist and looking back under her own elbow with a smile and an answer for each bag she twisted. There was a great deal of laughter. Sophie had to fight her way through to the counter.

Lettie saw her. She looked shaken for a moment. Then her eyes and her smile widened and she shouted, “Sophie!”

“Can I talk to you?” Sophie yelled. “Somewhere,” she shouted, a little helplessly, as a large, well-dressed elbow jostled her back from the counter.

“Just a moment!” Lettie screamed back. She turned to the girl next to her and whispered. The girl nodded, grinned, and came to take Lettie’s place.

“You’ll have to have me instead,” she said to the crowd. “Who’s next?”

“But I want to talk to you, Lettie!” one of the farmers’ sons yelled.

“Talk to Carrie,” Lettie said. “I want to talk to my sister.” Nobody really seemed to mind. They jostled Sophie along to the end of the counter, where Lettie held up a flap and beckoned, and told her not to keep Lettie all day. When Sophie had edged through the flap, Lettie seized her wrist and dragged her into the back of the shop, to a room surrounded by rack upon wooden rack, each one filled with rows of cakes. Lettie pulled forward two stools. “Sit down,” she said. She looked in the nearest rack, in an absentminded way, and handed Sophie a cream cake out of it. “You may need this,” she said.

Sophie sank onto the stool, breathing the rich smell of cake and feeling a little tearful. “Oh, Lettie!” she said. “I am so glad to see you!”

“Yes, and I’m glad you’re sitting down,” said Lettie. “You see, I’m not Lettie. I’m Martha.”

Chapter Two


“What?” Sophie stared at the girl on the stool opposite her. She looked just like Lettie. She was wearing Lettie’s second-best blue dress, a wonderful blue that suited her perfectly. She had Lettie’s dark hair and blue eyes.

“I am Martha,” said her sister. “Who did you catch cutting up Lettie’s silk drawers? I never told Lettie that. Did you?”

“No,” said Sophie, quite stunned. She could see it was Martha now. There was Martha’s tilt to Lettie’s head, and Martha’s way of clasping her hands round her knees with her thumbs twiddling. “Why?”

“I’ve been dreading you coming to see me,” Martha said, “because I knew I’d have to tell you. It’s a relief now I have. Promise you won’t tell anyone. I know you won’t tell if you promise. You’re so honorable.”

“I promise,” Sophie said. “But why? How?”

“Lettie and I arranged it,” Martha said, twiddling her thumbs, “because Lettie wanted to learn witchcraft and I didn’t. Lettie’s got brains, and she wants a future where she can use them—only try telling that to Mother! Mother’s too jealous of Lettie even to admit she has brains!”

Sophie could not believe Fanny was like that, but she let it pass. “But what about you?”

“Eat your cake,” said Martha. “It’s good. Oh, yes, I can be clever too. It only took me two weeks at Mrs. Fairfax’s to find the spell we’re using. I got up at night and read her books secretly, and it was easy really. Then I asked if I could visit my family and Mrs. Fairfax said yes. She’s a dear. She thought I was homesick. So I took the spell and came here, and Lettie went back to Mrs. Fairfax pretending to be me. The difficult part was the first week, when I didn’t know all the things I was supposed to know. It was awful. But I discovered that people like me—they do, you know, if you like them—and then it was all right. And Mrs. Fairfax hasn’t kicked Lettie out, so I suppose she managed too.”

Sophie chomped at cake she was not really tasting. “But what made you want to do this?”

Martha rocked on her stool, grinning all over Lettie’s face, twirling her thumbs in a happy pink whirl. “I want to get married and have ten children.”

“You’re not old enough!” said Sophie.

“Not quite,” Martha agreed. “But you can see I’ve got to start quite soon in order to fit ten children in. And this way gives me time to wait and see if the person I want likes me for being me. The spell’s going to wear off gradually, and I shall get more and more like myself, you see.”

Sophie was so astonished that she finished her cake without noticing what kind it had been. “Why ten children?”

“Because that’s how many I want,” said Martha.

“I never knew!”

“Well, it wasn’t much good going on about it when you were so busy backing Mother up about me making my fortune,” Martha said. “You thought Mother meant it. I did too, until Father died and I saw she was just trying to get rid of us—putting Lettie where she was bound to meet a lot of men and get married off, and sending me as far away as she could! I was so angry I thought, Why not? And I spoke to Lettie and she was just as angry and we fixed it up. We’re fine now. But we both feel bad about you. You’re far too clever and nice to be stuck in that shop for the rest of your life. We talked about it, but we couldn’t see what to do.”

“I’m all right,” Sophie protested. “Just a bit dull.”

“All right?” Martha exclaimed. “Yes, you prove you’re all right by not coming near here for months, and then turning up in a frightful gray dress and shawl, looking as if even I scare you! What’s Mother been doing to you?”

“Nothing,” Sophie said uncomfortably. “We’ve been rather busy. You shouldn’t talk about Fanny that way, Martha. She is your mother.”

“Yes, and I’m enough like her to understand her,” Martha retorted. “That’s why she sent me so far away, or tried to. Mother knows you don’t have to be unkind to someone in order to exploit them. She knows how dutiful you are. She knows you have this thing about being a failure because you’re only the eldest. She’s managed you perfectly and got you slaving away for her. I bet she doesn’t pay you.”

“I’m still an apprentice,” Sophie protested.

“So am I, but I get a wage. The Cesaris know I’m worth it,” said Martha. “That hat shop is making a mint these days, and all because of you! You made that green hat that makes the Mayor’s wife look like a stunning schoolgirl, didn’t you?”

“Caterpillar green. I trimmed it,” said Sophie.

“And the bonnet Jane Farrier was wearing when she met that nobleman,” Martha swept on. “You’re a genius with hats and clothes, and Mother knows it! You sealed your fate when you made Lettie that outfit last May Day. Now you earn the money while she goes off gadding—”

“She’s out doing the buying,” Sophie said.

“Buying!” Martha cried. Her thumbs whirled. “That takes her half a morning. I’ve seen her, Sophie, and heard the talk. She’s off in a hired carriage and new clothes on your earnings, visiting all the mansions down the valley! They’re saying she’s going to buy that big place down at Vale End and set up in style. And where are you?”

“Well, Fanny’s entitled to some pleasure after all her hard work bringing us up,” Sophie said. “I suppose I’ll inherit the shop.”

“What a fate!” Martha exclaimed. “Listen—”

But at that moment two empty cake racks were pulled away at the other end of the room, and an apprentice stuck his head through from the back somewhere. “Thought I heard your voice, Lettie,” he said, grinning in the most friendly and flirtatious way. “The new baking’s just up. Tell them.” His head, curly and somewhat floury, disappeared again. Sophie thought he looked a nice lad. She longed to ask if he was the one Martha really liked, but she did not get a chance. Martha sprang up in a hurry, still talking.

“I must get the girls to carry all these through to the shop,” she said. “Help me with the end of this one.” She dragged out the nearest rack and Sophie helped her hump it past the door into the roaring, busy shop. “You must do something about yourself, Sophie,” Martha panted as they went. “Lettie kept saying she didn’t know what would happen to you when we weren’t around to give you some self-respect. She was right to be worried.”

In the shop Mrs. Cesari seized the rack from them in both massive arms, yelling instructions, and a line of people rushed away past Martha to fetch more. Sophie yelled goodbye and slipped away in the bustle. It did not seem right to take up more of Martha’s time. Besides, she wanted to be alone to think. She ran home. There were fireworks now, going up from the field by the river where the Fair was, competing with the blue bangs from Howl’s castle. Sophie felt more like an invalid than ever.

She thought and thought, most of the following week, and all that happened was that she became confused and discontented. Things just did not seem to be the way she thought they were. She was amazed at Lettie and Martha. She had misunderstood them for years. But she could not believe Fanny was the kind of woman Martha said.

There was a lot of time for thinking, because Bessie duly left to be married and Sophie was mostly alone in the shop. Fanny did seem to be out a lot, gadding or not, and trade was slack after May Day. After three days Sophie plucked up courage to ask Fanny, “Shouldn’t I be earning a wage?”

“Of course, my love, with all you do!” Fanny answered warmly, fixing on a rose-trimmed hat in front of the shop mirror. “We’ll see about it as soon as I’ve done the accounts this evening.” Then she went out and did not come back until Sophie had shut the shop and taken that day’s hats through to the house to trim.

Sophie at first felt mean to have listened to Martha, but when Fanny did not mention a wage, either that evening or any time later that week, Sophie began to think that Martha had been right.

“Maybe I am being exploited,” she told a hat she was trimming with red silk and a bunch of wax cherries, “but someone has to do this or there will be no hats at all to sell.” She finished that hat and started on a stark black-and-white one, very modish, and a quite new thought came to her. “Does it matter if there are no hats to sell?” she asked it. She looked round the assembled hats, on stands or waiting in a heap to be trimmed. “What good are you all?” she asked them. “You certainly aren’t doing me a scrap of good.”

And she was within an ace of leaving the house and setting out to seek her fortune, until she remembered she was the eldest and there was no point. She took up the hat again, sighing.

She was still discontented, alone in the shop next morning, when a very plain young woman customer stormed in, whirling a pleated mushroom bonnet by its ribbons. “Look at this!” the young lady shrieked. “You told me this was the same as the bonnet Jane Farrier was wearing when she met the Count. And you lied. Nothing has happened to me at all!”

“I’m not surprised,” Sophie said, before she had caught up with herself. “If you’re fool enough to wear that bonnet with a face like that, you wouldn’t have the wit to spot the King himself if he came begging—if he hadn’t turned to stone first just at the sight of you.”

The customer glared. Then she threw the bonnet at Sophie and stormed out of the shop. Sophie carefully crammed the bonnet into the wastebasket, panting rather. The rule was: Lose your temper, lose a customer. She had just proven that rule. It troubled her to realize how very enjoyable it had been.

Sophie had no time to recover. There was the sound of wheels and horse hoofs and a carriage darkened the window. The shop bell clanged and the grandest customer she had ever seen sailed in, with a sable wrap drooping from her elbows and diamonds winking all over her dense black dress. Sophie’s eyes went to the lady’s wide hat first—real ostrich plume dyed to reflect the pinks and greens and blues winking in the diamonds and yet still look black. This was a wealthy hat. The lady’s face was carefully beautiful. The chestnut-brown hair made her seem young, but … Sophie’s eyes took in the young man who followed the lady in, a slightly formless-faced person with reddish hair, quite well dressed, but pale and obviously upset. He stared at Sophie with a kind of beseeching horror. He was clearly younger than the lady. Sophie was puzzled.

“Miss Hatter?” the lady asked in a musical but commanding voice.

“Yes,” said Sophie. The man looked more upset than ever. Perhaps the lady was his mother.

“I hear you sell the most heavenly hats,” said the lady. “Show me.”

Sophie did not trust herself to answer in her present mood. She went and got out hats. None of them were in this lady’s class, but she could feel the man’s eyes following her and that made her uncomfortable. The sooner the lady discovered the hats were wrong for her, the sooner this odd pair would go. She followed Fanny’s advice and got out the wrongest first.

The lady began rejecting hats instantly. “Dimples,” she said to the pink bonnet, and “Youth” to the caterpillar-green one. To the one of twinkles and veils she said, “Mysterious allure. How very obvious. What else have you?”

Sophie got out the modish black-and-white, which was the only hat even remotely likely to interest this lady.

The lady looked at it with contempt. “This one doesn’t do anything for anybody. You’re wasting my time, Miss Hatter.”

“Only because you came in and asked for hats,” Sophie said. “This is only a small shop in a small town, Madam. Why did you—” Behind the lady, the man gasped and seemed to be trying to signal warningly. “—bother to come in?” Sophie finished, wondering what was going on.

“I always bother when someone tries to set themselves up against the Witch of the Waste,” said the lady. “I’ve heard of you, Miss Hatter, and I don’t care for your competition or your attitude. I came to put a stop to you. There.” She spread out her hand in a flinging motion toward Sophie’s face.

“You mean you’re the Witch of the Waste?” Sophie quavered. Her voice seemed to have gone strange with fear and astonishment.

“I am,” said the lady. “And let that teach you to meddle with things that belong to me.”

“I don’t think I did. There must be some mistake,” Sophie croaked. The man was now staring at her in utter horror, though she could not see why.

“No mistake, Miss Hatter,” said the Witch. “Come, Gaston.” She turned and swept to the shop door. While the man was humbly opening it for her, she turned back to Sophie. “By the way, you won’t be able to tell anyone you’re under a spell,” she said. The shop door tolled like a funeral bell as she left.

Sophie put her hands to her face, wondering what the man had stared at. She felt soft, leathery wrinkles. She looked at her hands. They were wrinkled too, and skinny, with large veins in the back and knuckles like knobs. She pulled her gray skirt against her legs and looked down at skinny, decrepit ankles and feet which had made her shoes all knobbly. They were the legs of someone about ninety and they seemed to be real.

Sophie got herself to the mirror, and found she had to hobble. The face in the mirror was quite calm, because it was what she expected to see. It was the face of a gaunt old woman, withered and brownish, surrounded by wispy white hair. Her own eyes, yellow and watery, stared out at her, looking rather tragic.

“Don’t worry, old thing,” Sophie said to the face. “You look quite healthy. Besides, this is much more like you really are.”

She thought about her situation, quite calmly. Everything seemed to have gone calm and remote. She was not even particularly angry with the Witch of the Waste.

“Well, of course I shall have to do for her when I get the chance,” she told herself, “but meanwhile, if Lettie and Martha can stand being one another, I can stand being like this. But I can’t stay here. Fanny would have a fit. Let’s see. This gray dress is quite suitable, but I shall need my shawl and some food.”

She hobbled over to the shop door and carefully put up the CLOSED notice. Her joints creaked as she moved. She had to walk bowed and slow. But she was relieved to discover that she was quite a hale old woman. She did not feel weak or ill, just stiff. She hobbled to collect her shawl, and wrapped it over her head and shoulders, as old women did. Then she shuffled through into the house, where she collected her purse with a few coins in it and a parcel of bread and cheese. She let herself out of the house, carefully hiding the key in the usual place, and hobbled away down the street, surprised at how calm she still felt.

She did wonder if she should say goodbye to Martha. But she did not like the idea of Martha not knowing her. It was best just to go. Sophie decided she would write to both her sisters when she got wherever she was going, and shuffled on, through the field where the Fair had been, over the bridge, and on into the country lanes beyond. It was a warm spring day. Sophie discovered that being a crone did not stop her enjoying the sight and smell of may in the hedgerows, though the sight was a little blurred. Her back began to ache. She hobbled sturdily enough, but she needed a stick. She searched the hedges as she went for a loose stake of some kind.

Evidently her eyes were not as good as they had been. She thought she saw a stick, a mile or so on, but when she hauled on it, it proved to be the bottom end of an old scarecrow someone had thrown into the hedge. Sophie heaved the thing upright. It had a withered turnip for a face. Sophie found she had some fellow feeling for it. Instead of pulling it to pieces and taking the stick, she stuck it between two branches of the hedge, so that it stood looming rakishly above the may, with the tattered sleeves on its stick arms fluttering over the hedge.

“There,” she said, and her cracked old voice surprised her into giving a cracked old cackle of laughter. “Neither of us are up to much, are we, my friend? Maybe you’ll get back to your field if I leave you where people can see you.” She set off up the lane again, but a thought struck her and she turned back. “Now if I wasn’t doomed to failure because of my position in the family,” she told the scarecrow, “you could come to life and offer me help in making my fortune. But I wish you luck anyway.”

She cackled again as she walked on. Perhaps she was a little mad, but then old women often were.

She found a stick an hour or so later when she sat down on the bank to rest and eat her bread and cheese. There were noises in the hedge behind her: little strangled squeakings, followed by heavings that shook may petals off the hedge. Sophie crawled on her bony knees to peer past leaves and flowers and thorns into the inside of the hedge, and discovered a thin gray dog in there. It was hopelessly trapped by a stout stick which had somehow got twisted into a rope that was tied round its neck. The stick had wedged itself between two branches of the hedge so that the dog could barely move. It rolled its eyes wildly at Sophie’s peering face.

As a girl, Sophie was scared of all dogs. Even as an old woman, she was quite alarmed by the two rows of white fangs in the creature’s open jaws. But she said to herself, “The way I am now, it’s scarcely worth worrying about,” and felt in her sewing pocket for her scissors. She reached into the hedge with the scissors and sawed away at the rope round the dog’s neck.

The dog was very wild. It flinched away from her and growled. But Sophie sawed bravely on. “You’ll starve or throttle to death, my friend,” she told the dog in her cracked old voice, “unless you let me cut you loose. In fact, I think someone has tried to throttle you already. Maybe that accounts for your wildness.” The rope had been tied quite tightly round the dog’s neck and the stick had been twisted viciously into it. It took a lot of sawing before the rope parted and the dog was able to drag itself out from under the stick.

“Would you like some bread and cheese?” Sophie asked it then. But the dog just growled at her, forced its way out through the opposite side of the hedge, and slunk away. “There’s gratitude for you!” Sophie said, rubbing her prickled arms. “But you left me a gift in spite of yourself.” She pulled the stick that had trapped the dog out of the hedge and found it was a proper walking stick, well trimmed and tipped with iron. Sophie finished her bread and cheese and set off walking again. The lane became steeper and steeper and she found the stick a great help. It was also something to talk to. Sophie thumped along with a will, chatting to her stick. After all, old people often talk to themselves.

“There’s two encounters,” she said, “and not a scrap of magical gratitude from either. Still, you’re a good stick. I’m not grumbling. But I’m surely due to have a third encounter, magical or not. In fact, I insist on one. I wonder what it will be.”

The third encounter came toward the end of the afternoon when Sophie had worked her way quite high into the hills. A countryman came whistling down the lane toward her. A shepherd, Sophie thought, going home after seeing to his sheep. He was a well-set-up young fellow of forty or so. “Gracious!” Sophie said to herself. “This morning I’d have seen him as an old man. How one’s point of view does alter!”

When the shepherd saw Sophie mumbling to herself, he moved rather carefully over to the other side of the lane and called out with great heartiness, “Good evening to you, Mother! Where are you off to?”

“Mother?” said Sophie. “I’m not your mother, young man!”

“A manner of speaking,” the shepherd said, edging along against the opposite hedge. “I was only meaning a polite inquiry, seeing you walking into the hills at the end of the day. You won’t get down into Upper Folding before nightfall, will you?”

Sophie had not considered this. She stood in the road and thought about it. “It doesn’t matter really,” she said, half to herself. “You can’t be fussy when you’re off to seek your fortune.”

“Can’t you indeed, Mother?” said the shepherd. He had now edged himself downhill of Sophie and seemed to feel better for it. “Then I wish you good luck, Mother, provided your fortune don’t have nothing to do with charming folks’ cattle.” And he took off down the road in great strides, almost running, but not quite.

Sophie stared after him indignantly. “He thought I was a witch!” she said to her stick. She had half a mind to scare the shepherd by shouting nasty things after him, but that seemed a little unkind. She plugged on uphill, mumbling. Shortly, the hedges gave way to bare banks and the land beyond became heathery upland, with a lot of steepness beyond that covered with yellow, rattling grass. Sophie kept grimly on. By now her knobby old feet ached, and her back, and her knees. She became too tired to mumble and simply plugged on, panting, until the sun was quite low. And all at once it became quite clear to Sophie that she could not walk a step further.

She collapsed onto a stone by the wayside, wondering what she would do now. “The only fortune I can think of is a comfortable chair!” she gasped.

The stone proved to be on a sort of headland, which gave Sophie a magnificent view of the way she had come. There was most of the valley spread out beneath her in the setting sun, all fields and walls and hedges, the windings of the river, and the fine mansions of rich people glowing out from clumps of trees, right down to blue mountains in the far distance. Just below her was Market Chipping. Sophie could look down into its well-known streets. There was Market Square and Cesari’s. She could have tossed a stone down the chimney pots of the house next to the hat shop.

“How near it still is!” Sophie told her stick in dismay. “All that walking just to get above my own rooftop!”

It got cold on the stone as the sun went down. An unpleasant wind blew whichever way Sophie turned to avoid it. Now it no longer seemed so unimportant that she would be out on the hills during the night. She found herself thinking more and more of a comfortable chair and a fireside, and also of darkness and wild animals. But if she went back to Market Chipping, it would be the middle of the night before she got there. She might just as well go on. She sighed and stood up, creaking. It was awful. She ached all over.

“I never realized before what old people had to put up with!” she panted as she labored uphill. “Still, I don’t think wolves will eat me. I must be far too dry and tough. That’s one comfort.”

Night was coming down fast now and the heathery uplands were blue-gray. The wind was sharper. Sophie’s panting and the creaking of her limbs were so loud in her ears that it took her a while to notice that some of the grinding and puffing was not coming from herself at all. She looked up blurrily.

Wizard Howl’s castle was rumbling and bumping toward her across the moorland. Black smoke was blowing up in clouds from behind its black battlements. It looked tall and thin and heavy and ugly and very sinister indeed. Sophie leaned on her stick and watched it. She was not particularly frightened. She wondered how it moved. But the main thing in her mind was that all that smoke must mean a large fireside somewhere inside those tall black walls.

“Well, why not?” she said to her stick. “Wizard Howl is not likely to want my soul for his collection. He only takes young girls.”

She raised her stick and waved it imperiously at the castle.

“Stop!” she shrieked.

The castle obediently came to a rumbling, grinding halt about fifty feet uphill from her. Sophie felt rather gratified as she hobbled toward it.

Chapter Three


There was a large black door in the black wall facing Sophie and she made for that, hobbling briskly. The castle was uglier than ever close to. It was far too tall for its height and not a very regular shape. As far as Sophie could see in the growing darkness, it was built of huge black blocks, like coal, and, like coal, the blocks were all different shapes and sizes. Chill breathed off these blocks as she got closer, but that failed to frighten Sophie at all. She just thought of chairs and firesides and stretched her hand out eagerly to the door.

Her hand could not come near it. Some invisible wall stopped her hand about a foot from the door. Sophie prodded at it with an irritable finger. When that made no difference, she prodded with her stick. The wall seemed to be all over the door from as high as her stick could reach, and right down to the heather sticking out from under the doorstep.

“Open up!” Sophie cackled at it.

That made no difference to the wall.

“Very well,” Sophie said. “I’ll find your back door.” She hobbled off to the lefthand corner of the castle, that being both nearest and slightly downhill. But she could not get round the corner. The invisible wall stopped her again as soon as she was level with the irregular black cornerstones. At this, Sophie said a word she had learned from Martha, that neither old ladies nor young girls are supposed to know, and stumped uphill and anticlockwise to the castle’s righthand corner. There was no barrier there. She turned that corner and hobbled eagerly toward the second big black door in the middle of that side of the castle.

There was a barrier over that door too.

Sophie glowered at it. “I call that very unwelcoming!” she said.

Black smoke blew down from the battlements in clouds. Sophie coughed. Now she was angry. She was old, frail, chilly, and aching all over. Night was coming on and the castle just sat and blew smoke at her. “I’ll speak to Howl about this!” she said, and set off fiercely to the next corner. There was no barrier there—evidently you had to go round the castle anticlockwise—but there, a bit sideways in the next wall, was a third door. This one was much smaller and shabbier.

“The back door at last!” Sophie said.

The castle started to move again as Sophie got near the back door. The ground shook. The wall shuddered and creaked, and the door started to travel away sideways from her.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Sophie shouted. She ran after the door and hit it violently with her stick. “Open up!” she yelled.

The door sprang open inward, still moving away sideways. Sophie, by hobbling furiously, managed to get one foot up on its doorstep. Then she hopped and scrambled and hopped again, while the great black blocks round the door jolted and crunched as the castle gathered speed over the uneven hillside. Sophie did not wonder the castle had a lopsided look. The marvel was that it did not fall apart on the spot.

“What a stupid way to treat a building!” she panted as she threw herself inside it. She had to drop her stick and hang on to the open door in order not to be jolted straight out again.

When she began to get her breath, she realized there was a person standing in front of her, holding the door too. He was a head taller than Sophie, but she could see he was the merest child, only a little older than Martha. And he seemed to be trying to shut the door on her and push her out of the warm, lamplit, low-beamed room beyond him, into the night again.

“Don’t you have the impudence to shut the door on me, my boy!” she said.

“I wasn’t going to, but you’re keeping the door open,” he protested. “What do you want?”

Sophie looked round at what she could see beyond the boy. There were a number of probably wizardly things hanging from the beams—strings of onions, bunches of herbs, and bundles of strange roots. There were also definitely wizardly things, like leather books, crooked bottles, and an old, brown, grinning human skull. On the other side of the boy was a fireplace with a small fire burning in the grate. It was a much smaller fire than all the smoke outside suggested, but then this was obviously only a back room in the castle. Much more important to Sophie, this fire had reached the glowing rosy stage, with little blue flames dancing on the logs, and placed beside it in the warmest position was a low chair with a cushion on it.

Sophie pushed the boy aside and dived for that chair. “Ah! My fortune!” she said, settling herself comfortably in it. It was bliss. The fire warmed her aches and the chair supported her back and she knew that if anyone wanted to turn her out now, they were going to have to use extreme and violent magic to do it.

The boy shut the door. Then he picked up Sophie’s stick and politely leaned it against the chair for her. Sophie realized that there was now no sign at all that the castle was moving across the hillside: not even the ghost of a rumble or the tiniest shaking. How odd! “Tell Wizard Howl,” she said to the boy, “that this castle’s going to come apart round his ears if it travels much further.”

“The castle’s bespelled to hold together,” the boy said. “But I’m afraid Howl’s not here just at the moment.”

This was good news to Sophie. “When will he be back?” she asked a little nervously.

“Probably not till tomorrow now,” the boy said. “What do you want? Can I help you instead? I’m Howl’s apprentice, Michael.”

This was better news than ever. “I’m afraid only the Wizard can possibly help me,” Sophie said quickly and firmly. It was probably true too. “I’ll wait, if you don’t mind.” It was clear Michael did mind. He hovered over her a little helplessly. To make it plain to him that she had no intention of being turned out by a mere boy apprentice, Sophie closed her eyes and pretended to go to sleep. “Tell him the name’s Sophie,” she murmured. “Old Sophie,” she added, to be on the safe side.

“That will probably mean waiting all night,” Michael said. Since this was exactly what Sophie wanted, she pretended not to hear. In fact, she almost certainly fell into a swift doze. She was so tired from all that walking. After a moment Michael gave her up and went back to the work he was doing at the workbench where the lamp stood.

So she would have a whole night’s shelter, even if it was on slightly false pretenses, Sophie thought drowsily. Since Howl was such a wicked man, it probably served him right to be imposed upon. But she intended to be well away from here by the time Howl came back and raised objections. She looked sleepily and slyly across at the apprentice. It rather surprised her to find him such a nice, polite boy. After all, she had forced her way in quite rudely and Michael had not complained at all. Perhaps Howl kept him in abject servility. But Michael did not look servile. He was a tall, dark boy with a pleasant, open sort of face, and he was most respectably dressed. In fact, if Sophie had not seen him at that moment carefully pouring green fluid out of a crooked flask onto black powder in a bent glass jar, she would have taken him for the son of a prosperous farmer. How odd!

Still, things were bound to be odd where wizards were concerned, Sophie thought. And this kitchen, or workshop, was beautifully cozy and very peaceful. Sophie went properly to sleep and snored. She did not wake up when there came a flash and a muted bang from the workbench, followed by a hurriedly bitten-off swear word from Michael. She did not wake when Michael, sucking his burned fingers, put the spell aside for the night and fetched bread and cheese out of the closet. She did not stir when Michael knocked her stick down with a clatter, reaching over her for a log to put on the fire, or when Michael, looking down into Sophie’s open mouth, remarked to the fireplace, “She’s got all her teeth. She’s not the Witch of the Waste, is she?”

“I wouldn’t have let her come in if she was,” the fireplace retorted.

Michael shrugged and picked Sophie’s stick politely up again. Then he put a log on the fire with equal politeness and went away to bed somewhere overhead.

In the middle of the night Sophie was woken by someone snoring. She jumped upright, rather irritated to discover that she was the one who had been snoring. It seemed to her that she had only dropped off for a second or so, but Michael seemed to have vanished in those seconds, taking the light with him. No doubt a wizard’s apprentice learned to do that kind of thing in his first week. And he had left the fire very low. It was giving out irritating hissings and poppings. A cold draft blew on Sophie’s back. Sophie recalled that she was in a wizard’s castle, and also, with unpleasant distinctness, that there was a human skull on a workbench somewhere behind her.

She shivered and cranked her stiff old neck around, but there was only darkness behind her. “Let’s have a bit more light, shall we?” she said. Her cracked little voice seemed to make no more noise than the crackling of the fire. Sophie was surprised. She had expected it to echo through the vaults of the castle. Still, there was a basket of logs beside her. She stretched out a creaking arm and heaved a log on the fire, which sent a spray of green and blue sparks flying up the chimney. She heaved on a second log and sat back, not without a nervous look or so behind her, where blue-purple light from the fire was dancing over the polished brown bone of the skull. The room was quite small. There was no one in it but Sophie and the skull.

“He’s got both feet in the grave and I’ve only got one,” she consoled herself. She turned back to the fire, which was now flaring up into blue and green flames. “Must be salt in that wood,” Sophie murmured. She settled herself more comfortably, putting her knobby feet on the fender and her head into a corner of the chair, where she could stare into the colored flames, and began dreamily considering what she ought to do in the morning. But she was sidetracked a little by imagining a face in the flames. “It would be a thin blue face,” she murmured, “very long and thin, with a thin blue nose. But those curly green flames on top are most definitely your hair. Suppose I didn’t go until Howl gets back? Wizards can lift spells, I suppose. And those purple flames near the bottom make the mouth—you have savage teeth, my friend. You have two green tufts of flame for eyebrows....” Curiously enough, the only orange flames in the fire were under the green eyebrow flames, just like eyes, and they each had a little purple glint in the middle that Sophie could almost imagine was looking at her, like the pupil of an eye. “On the other hand,” Sophie continued, looking into the orange flames, “if the spell was off, I’d have my heart eaten before I could turn around.”

“Don’t you want your heart eaten?” asked the fire.

It was definitely the fire that spoke. Sophie saw its purple mouth move as the words came. Its voice was nearly as cracked as her own, full of the spitting and whining of burning wood. “Naturally I don’t,” Sophie answered. “What are you?”

“A fire demon,” answered the purple mouth. There was more whine than spit to its voice as it said, “I’m bound to this hearth by contract. I can’t move from this spot.” Then its voice became brisk and crackling. “And what are you?” it asked. “I can see you’re under a spell.”

This roused Sophie from her dreamlike state. “You see!” she exclaimed. “Can you take the spell off?”

There was a poppling, blazing silence while the orange eyes in the demon’s wavering blue face traveled up and down Sophie. “It’s a strong spell,” it said at length. “It feels like one of the Witch of the Waste’s to me.”

“It is,” said Sophie.

“But it seems more than that,” crackled the demon. “I detect two layers. And of course you won’t be able to tell anyone about it unless they know already.” It gazed at Sophie a moment longer. “I shall have to study it,” it said.

“How long will that take?” Sophie asked.

“It may take a while,” said the demon. And it added in a soft, persuasive flicker, “How about making a bargain with me? I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contract I’m under.”

Sophie looked warily at the demon’s thin blue face. It had a distinctly cunning look as it made this proposal. Everything she had read showed the extreme danger of making a bargain with a demon. And there was no doubt that this one did look extraordinarily evil. Those long purple teeth. “Are you sure you’re being quite honest?” she said.

“Not completely,” admitted the demon. “But do you want to stay like that till you die? That spell has shortened your life by about sixty years, if I am any judge of such things.”

This was a nasty thought, and one which Sophie had tried not to think about up to now. It made quite a difference. “This contract you’re under,” she said. “It’s with Wizard Howl, is it?”

“Of course,” said the demon. Its voice took on a bit of a whine again. “I’m fastened to this hearth and I can’t stir so much as a foot away. I’m forced to do most of the magic around here. I have to maintain the castle and keep it moving and do all the special effects that scare people off, as well as anything else Howl wants. Howl’s quite heartless, you know.”

Sophie did not need telling that Howl was heartless. On the other hand, the demon was probably quite as wicked. “Don’t you get anything out of this contract at all?” she said.

“I wouldn’t have entered into it if I didn’t,” said the demon, flickering sadly. “But I wouldn’t have done if I’d known what it would be like. I’m being exploited.”

In spite of her caution, Sophie felt a good deal of sympathy for the demon. She thought of herself making hats for Fanny while Fanny went gadding. “All right,” she said. “What are the terms of the contract? How do I break it?”

An eager purple grin spread across the demon’s blue face. “You agree to a bargain?”

“If you agree to break the spell on me,” Sophie said, with a brave sense of saying something fatal.

“Done!” cried the demon, his long face leaping gleefully up the chimney. “I’ll break your spell the very instant you break my contract!”

“Then tell me how I break your contract,” Sophie said.

The orange eyes glinted at her and looked away. “I can’t. Part of the contract is that neither the Wizard nor I can say what the main clause is.”

Sophie saw that she had been tricked. She opened her mouth to tell the demon that it could sit in the fireplace until Doomsday in that case.

The demon realized she was going to. “Don’t be hasty!” it crackled. “You can find out what it is if you watch and listen carefully. I implore you to try. The contract isn’t doing either of us any good in the long run. And I do keep my word. The fact that I’m stuck here shows that I keep it!”

It was in earnest, leaping about on its logs in an agitated way. Sophie again felt a great deal of sympathy. “But if I’m to watch and listen, that means I have to stay here in Howl’s castle,” she objected.

“Only about a month. Remember, I have to study your spell too,” the demon pleaded.

“But what possible excuse can I give for doing that?” Sophie asked.

“We’ll think of one. Howl’s pretty useless at most things. In fact,” the demon said, venomously hissing, “he’s too wrapped up in himself to see beyond his nose half the time. We can deceive him—as long as you’ll agree to stay.”

“Very well,” Sophie said. “I’ll stay. Now find an excuse.”

She settled herself comfortably in the chair while the demon thought. It thought aloud, in a little crackling, flickering murmur, which reminded Sophie rather of the way she had talked to her stick when she walked here, and it blazed while it thought with such a glad and powerful roaring that she dozed again. She thought the demon did make a few suggestions. She remembered shaking her head to the notion that she should pretend to be Howl’s long-lost great-aunt, and to one or two other ones even more far-fetched, but she did not remember very clearly. The demon at length fell to singing a gentle, flickering little song. It was not in any language Sophie knew—or she thought not, until she distinctly heard the word “saucepan” in it several times—and it was very sleepy-sounding. Sophie fell into a deep sleep, with a slight suspicion that she was being bewitched now, as well as beguiled, but it did not bother her particularly. She would be free of the spell soon....

Chapter Four


When Sophie woke up, daylight was streaming across her. Since Sophie remembered no windows at all in the castle, her first notion was that she had fallen asleep trimming hats and dreamed of leaving home. The fire in front of her had sunk to rosy charcoal and white ash, which convinced her that she had certainly dreamed there was a fire demon. But her very first movements told her that there were some things she had not dreamed. There were sharp cracks from all over her body.

“Ow!” she exclaimed. “I ache all over!” The voice that exclaimed was a weak, cracked piping. She put her knobby hands to her face and felt wrinkles. At that, she discovered she had been in a state of shock all yesterday. She was very angry indeed with the Witch of the Waste for doing this to her, hugely, enormously angry. “Sailing into shops and turning people old!” she exclaimed. “Oh, what I won’t do to her!”

Her anger made her jump up in a salvo of cracks and creaks and hobble over to the unexpected window. It was above the workbench. To her utter astonishment, the view from it was a view of a dockside town. She could see a sloping, unpaved street, lined with small, rather poor-looking houses, and masts sticking up beyond the roofs. Beyond the masts she caught a glimmer of the sea, which was something she had never seen in her life before.

“Wherever am I?” Sophie asked the skull standing on the bench. “I don’t expect you to answer that, my friend,” she added hastily, remembering this was a wizard’s castle, and she turned round to take a look at the room.

It was quite a small room, with heavy black beams in the ceiling. By daylight it was amazingly dirty. The stones of the floor were stained and greasy, ash was piled within the fender, and cobwebs hung in dusty droops from the beams. There was a layer of dust on the skull. Sophie absently wiped it off as she went to peer into the sink beside the workbench. She shuddered at the pink-and-gray slime in it and the white slime dripping from the pump above it. Howl obviously did not care what squalor his servants lived in.

The rest of the castle had to be beyond one or other of the four low black doors around the room. Sophie opened the nearest, in the end wall beyond the bench. There was a large bathroom beyond it. In some ways it was a bathroom you might normally find only in a palace, full of luxuries such as an indoor toilet, a shower stall, an immense bath with clawed feet, and mirrors on every wall. But it was even dirtier than the other room. Sophie winced from the toilet, flinched at the color of the bath, recoiled from green weed growing in the shower, and quite easily avoided looking at her shriveled shape in the mirrors because the glass was plastered with blobs and runnels of nameless substances. The nameless substances themselves were crowded onto a very large shelf over the bath. They were in jars, boxes, tubes, and hundreds of tattered brown packets and paper bags. The biggest jar had a name. It was called DRYING POWER in crooked letters. Sophie was not sure whether there should be a D in that or not. She picked up a packet at random. It had SKIN scrawled on it, and she put it back hurriedly. Another jar said EYES in the same scrawl. A tube stated FOR DECAY.

“It seems to work too,” Sophie murmured, looking into the washbasin with a shiver. Water ran into the basin when she turned a blue-green knob that might have been brass and washed some of the decay away. Sophie rinsed her hands and face in the water without touching the basin, but she did not have the courage to use DRYING POWER. She dried the water with her skirt and then set off to the next black door.

That one opened onto a flight of rickety wooden stairs. Sophie heard someone move up there and shut the door hurriedly. It seemed only to lead to a sort of loft anyway. She hobbled to the next door. By now she was moving quite easily. She was a hale old woman, as she had discovered yesterday.

The third door opened onto a poky backyard with high brick walls. It contained a big stack of logs, and higgledy-piggledy heaps of what seemed to be scrap iron, wheels, buckets, metal sheeting, wire, mounded almost to the tops of the walls. Sophie shut that door too, rather puzzled, because it did not seem to match the castle at all. There was no castle to be seen above the brick walls. They ended at the sky. Sophie could only think that this part was round the side where the invisible wall had stopped her the night before.

She opened the fourth door and it was just a broom cupboard, with two fine but dusty velvet cloaks hanging on the brooms. Sophie shut it again, slowly. The only other door was in the wall with the window, and that was the door she had come in by last night. She hobbled over and cautiously opened that.

She stood for a moment looking out at a slowly moving view of the hills, watching heather slide past underneath the door, feeling the wind blow her wispy hair, and listening to the rumble and grind of the big black stones as the castle moved. Then she shut the door and went to the window. And there was the seaport town again. It was no picture. A woman had opened a door opposite and was sweeping dust into the street. Behind that house a grayish canvas sail was going up a mast in brisk jerks, disturbing a flock of seagulls into flying round and round against the glimmering sea.

“I don’t understand,” Sophie told the human skull. Then, because the fire looked almost out, she went and put on a couple of logs and raked away some of the ash.

Green flames climbed between the logs, small and curly, and shot up into a long blue face with flaming green hair. “Good morning,” said the fire demon. “Don’t forget we have a bargain.”

So none of it was a dream. Sophie was not much given to crying, but she sat in the chair for quite a while staring at a blurred and sliding fire demon, and did not pay much attention to the sounds of Michael getting up, until she found him standing beside her, looking embarrassed and a little exasperated.

“You’re still here,” he said. “Is something the matter?”

Sophie sniffed. “I’m old,” she began.

But it was just as the Witch had said and the fire demon had guessed. Michael said cheerfully, “Well, it comes to us all in time. Would you like some breakfast?”

Sophie discovered she was a very hale old woman indeed. After only bread and cheese at lunchtime yesterday, she was ravenous. “Yes!” she said, and when Michael went to the closet in the wall, she sprang up and peered over his shoulder to see what there was to eat.

“I’m afraid there’s only bread and cheese,” Michael said rather stiffly.

“But there’s a whole basket of eggs in there!” Sophie said. “And isn’t that bacon? What about a hot drink as well? Where’s your kettle?”

“There isn’t one,” Michael said. “Howl’s the only one who can cook.”

“I can cook,” said Sophie. “Unhook that frying pan and I’ll show you.”

She reached for the large black pan hanging on the closet wall, in spite of Michael trying to prevent her. “You don’t understand,” Michael said. “It’s Calcifer, the fire demon. He won’t bend down his head to be cooked on for anyone but Howl.”

Sophie turned and looked at the fire demon. He flickered back at her wickedly. “I refuse to be exploited,” he said.

“You mean,” Sophie said to Michael, “that you have to do without even a hot drink unless Howl’s here?” Michael gave an embarrassed nod. “Then you’re the one that’s being exploited!” said Sophie. “Give that here.” She wrenched the pan from Michael’s resisting fingers, plonked the bacon into it, popped a handy wooden spoon into the egg basket, and marched with the lot to the fireplace. “Now, Calcifer,” she said, “let’s have no more nonsense. Bend down your head.”

“You can’t make me!” crackled the fire demon.

“Oh, yes I can!” Sophie crackled back, with the ferocity that had often stopped both her sisters in mid-fight. “If you don’t, I shall pour water on you. Or I shall pick up the tongs and take away both your logs,” she added, as she got herself creakingly onto her knees by the hearth. There she whispered, “Or I can go back on our bargain, or tell Howl about it, can’t I?”

“Oh, curses!” Calcifer spat. “Why did you let her in here, Michael?” Sulkily he bent his blue face forward until all that could be seen of him was a ring of curly green flames dancing on the logs.

“Thank you,” Sophie said, and slapped the heavy pan onto the green ring to make sure Calcifer did not suddenly rise up again.

“I hope your bacon burns,” Calcifer said, muffled under the pan.

Sophie slapped slices of bacon into the pan. It was good and hot. The bacon sizzled, and she had to wrap her skirt round her hand to hold the handle. The door opened, but she did not notice because of the sizzling. “Don’t be silly,” she told Calcifer. “And hold still because I want to break in the eggs.”

“Oh, hello, Howl,” Michael said helplessly.

Sophie turned round at that, rather hurriedly. She stared. The tall young fellow in a flamboyant blue-and-silver suit who had just come in stopped in the act of leaning a guitar in the corner. He brushed the fair hair from his rather curious glass-green eyes and stared back. His long, angular face was perplexed.

“Who on earth are you?” said Howl. “Where have I seen you before?”

“I am a total stranger,” Sophie lied firmly. After all, Howl had only met her long enough to call her a mouse before, so it was almost true. She ought to have been thanking her stars for the lucky escape she’d had then, she supposed, but in fact her main thought was, Good gracious! Wizard Howl is only a child in his twenties, for all his wickedness! It made such a difference to be old, she thought as she turned the bacon over in the pan. And she would have died rather than let this overdressed boy know she was the girl he had pitied on May Day. Hearts and souls did not enter into it. Howl was not going to know.

“She says her name’s Sophie,” Michael said. “She came last night.”

“How did she make Calcifer bend down?” said Howl.

“She bullied me!” Calcifer said in a piteous, muffled voice from under the sizzling pan.

“Not many people can do that,” Howl said thoughtfully. He propped his guitar in the corner and came over to the hearth. The smell of hyacinths mixed with the smell of bacon as he shoved Sophie firmly aside. “Calcifer doesn’t like anyone but me to cook on him,” he said, kneeling down and wrapping one trailing sleeve round his hand to hold the pan. “Pass me two more slices of bacon and six eggs, please, and tell me why you’ve come here.”

Sophie stared at the blue jewel hanging from Howl’s ear and passed him egg after egg. “Why I came, young man?” she said. It was obvious after what she had seen of the castle. “I came because I’m your new cleaning lady, of course.”

“Are you indeed?” Howl said, cracking the eggs one-handed and tossing the shells among the logs, where Calcifer seemed to be eating them with a lot of snarling and gobbling. “Who says you are?”

“I do,” said Sophie, and she added piously, “I can clean the dirt from this place even if I can’t clean you from your wickedness, young man.”

“Howl’s not wicked,” Michael said.

“Yes I am,” Howl contradicted him. “You forget just how wicked I’m being at the moment, Michael.” He jerked his chin at Sophie. “If you’re so anxious to be of use, my good woman, find some knives and forks and clear the bench.”

There were tall stools under the workbench. Michael was pulling them out to sit on and pushing aside all the things on top of it to make room for some knives and forks he had taken from a drawer in the side of it. Sophie went to help him. She had not expected Howl to welcome her, of course, but he had not even so far agreed to let her stay beyond breakfast. Since Michael did not seem to need help, Sophie shuffled over to her stick and put it slowly and showily in the broom cupboard. When that did not seem to attract Howl’s attention, she said, “You can take me on for a month’s trial, if you like.”

Wizard Howl said nothing but “Plates, please, Michael,” and stood up holding the smoking pan. Calcifer sprang up with a roar of relief and blazed high in the chimney.

Sophie made another attempt to pin the Wizard down. “If I’m going to be cleaning here for the next month,” she said, “I’d like to know where the rest of the castle is. I can only find this one room and the bathroom.”

To her surprise, both Michael and the Wizard roared with laughter.

It was not until they had almost finished breakfast that Sophie discovered what had made them laugh. Howl was not only hard to pin down. He seemed to dislike answering any questions at all. Sophie gave up asking him and asked Michael instead.

“Tell her,” said Howl. “It will stop her pestering.”

“There isn’t any more of the castle,” Michael said, “except what you’ve seen and two bedrooms upstairs.”

“What?” Sophie exclaimed.

Howl and Michael laughed again. “Howl and Calcifer invented the castle,” Michael explained, “and Calcifer keeps it going. The inside of it is really just Howl’s old house in Porthaven, which is the only real part.”

“But Porthaven’s miles down near the sea!” Sophie said. “I call that too bad! What do you mean by having this great, ugly castle rushing about the hills and frightening everyone in Market Chipping to death?”

Howl shrugged. “What an outspoken old woman you are! I’ve reached that stage in my career when I need to impress everyone with my power and wickedness. I can’t have the King thinking well of me. And last year I offended someone very powerful and I need to keep out of their way.”

It seemed a funny way to avoid someone, but Sophie supposed wizards had different standards from ordinary people. And she shortly discovered that the castle had other peculiarities. They had finished eating and Michael was piling the plates in the slimy sink beside the bench when there came a loud, hollow knocking at the door.

Calcifer blazed up. “Kingsbury door!”

Howl, who was on his way to the bathroom, went to the door instead. There was a square wooden knob above the door, set into the lintel, with a dab of paint on each of its four sides. At that moment there was a green blob on the side that was at the bottom, but Howl turned the knob round so that it had a red blob downward before he opened the door.

Outside stood a personage wearing a stiff white wig and a wide hat on top of that. He was clothed in scarlet and purple and gold, and he held up a little staff decorated with ribbons like an infant maypole. He bowed. Scents of cloves and orange blossom blew into the room.

“His Majesty the King presents his compliments and sends payment for two thousand pair of seven-league boots,” this person said.

Behind him Sophie had glimpses of a coach waiting in a street full of sumptuous houses covered with painted carvings, and towers and spires and domes beyond that, of a splendor she had barely before imagined. She was sorry it took so little time for the person at the door to hand over a long, silken, chinking purse, and for Howl to take the purse, bow back, and shut the door. Howl turned the square knob back so that the green blob was downward again and stowed the long purse in his pocket. Sophie saw Michael’s eyes follow the purse in an urgent, worried way.

Howl went straight to the bathroom then, calling out, “I need hot water in here, Calcifer!” and was gone for a long, long time.

Sophie could not restrain her curiosity. “Whoever was that at the door?” she asked Michael. “Or do I mean wherever?”

“That door gives on Kingsbury,” Michael said, “where the King lives. I think that man was the Chancellor’s clerk. And,” he added worriedly to Calcifer, “I do wish he hadn’t given Howl all that money.”

“Is Howl going to let me stay here?” Sophie asked.

“If he is, you’ll never pin him down,” Michael answered. “He hates being pinned down to anything.”

Chapter Five


The only thing to do, Sophie decided, was to show Howl that she was an excellent cleaning lady, a real treasure. She tied an old rag round her wispy white hair, she rolled the sleeves up her skinny old arms, and wrapped an old tablecloth from the broom cupboard round her as an apron. It was rather a relief to think there were only four rooms to clean instead of a whole castle. She grabbed up a bucket and besom and got to work.

“What are you doing?” cried Michael and Calcifer in a horrified chorus.

“Cleaning up,” Sophie replied firmly. “The place is a disgrace.”

Calcifer said, “It doesn’t need it,” and Michael muttered, “Howl will kick you out!” but Sophie ignored them both. Dust flew in clouds.

In the midst of it there came another set of thumps at the door. Calcifer blazed up, calling, “Porthaven door!” and gave a great, sizzling sneeze which shot purple sparks through the dust clouds.

Michael left the workbench and went to the door. Sophie peered through the dust she was raising and saw that this time Michael turned the square knob over the door so that the side with a blue blob of paint on it was downward. Then he opened the door on the street you saw out of the window.

A small girl stood there. “Please, Mr. Fisher,” she said, “I’ve come for that spell for me mum.”

“Safety spell for your dad’s boat, wasn’t it?” Michael said. “Won’t be a moment.” He went back to the bench and measured powder from a jar from the shelves into a square of paper. While he was doing it, the little girl peered in at Sophie as curiously as Sophie peered out at her. Michael twisted the paper round the powder and came back saying, “Tell her to sprinkle it right along the boat. It’ll last out and back, even if there’s a storm.”

The girl took the paper and passed over a coin. “Has the Sorcerer got a witch working for him too?” she asked.

“No,” said Michael.

“Meaning me?” Sophie called. “Oh, yes, my child. I’m the best and cleanest witch in Ingary.”

Michael shut the door, looking exasperated. “That will be all round Porthaven now. Howl may not like that.” He turned the knob green-down again.

Sophie cackled to herself a little, quite unrepentant. Probably she had let the besom she was using put ideas into her head. But it might persuade Howl to let her stay if everyone thought she was working for him. It was odd. As a girl, Sophie would have shriveled with embarrassment at the way she was behaving. As an old woman, she did not mind what she did or said. She found that a great relief.

She went nosily over as Michael lifted up a stone in the hearth and hid the little girl’s coin under it. “What are you doing?”

“Calcifer and I try to keep a store of money,” Michael said rather guiltily. “Howl spends every penny we’ve got if we don’t.”

“Feckless spendthrift!” Calcifer crackled. “He’ll spend the King’s money faster than I burn a log. No sense.”

Sophie sprinkled water from the sink to lay the dust, which made Calcifer shrink back against the chimney. Then she swept the floor all over again. She swept her way toward the door in order to have a look at the square knob above it. The fourth side, which she had not seen used yet, had a blob of black paint on it. Wondering where that led to, Sophie began briskly sweeping the cobwebs off the beams. Michael moaned and Calcifer sneezed again.

Howl came out of the bathroom just then in a waft of steamy perfume. He looked marvelously spruce. Even the silver inlets and embroidery on his suit seemed to have become brighter. He took one look and backed into the bathroom again with a blue-and-silver sleeve protecting his head.

“Stop it, woman!” he said. “Leave those poor spiders alone!”

“These cobwebs are a disgrace!” Sophie declared, fetching them down in bundles.

“Then get them down and leave the spiders,” said Howl.

Probably he had a wicked affinity with spiders, Sophie thought. “They’ll only make more webs,” she said.

“And kill flies, which is very useful,” said Howl. “Keep that broom still while I cross my own room, please.”

Sophie leaned on the broom and watched Howl cross the room and pick up his guitar. As he put his hand on the door latch, she said, “If the red blob leads to Kingsbury and the blue blob goes to Porthaven, where does the black blob take you?”

“What a nosy old woman you are!” said Howl. “That leads to my private bolt hole and you are not being told where it is.” He opened the door onto the wide, moving moorland and the hills.

“When will you be back, Howl?” Michael asked a little despairingly.

Howl pretended not to hear. He said to Sophie, “You’re not to kill a single spider while I’m away.” And the door slammed behind him. Michael looked meaningly at Calcifer and sighed. Calcifer crackled with malicious laughter.

Since nobody explained where Howl had gone, Sophie concluded he was off to hunt young girls again and got down to work with more righteous vigor than ever. She did not dare harm any spiders after what Howl had said. So she banged at the beams with the broom, screaming, “Out, spiders! Out of my way!” Spiders scrambled for their lives every which way, and webs fell in swathes. Then of course she had to sweep the floor yet again. After that, she got down on her knees and scrubbed it.

“I wish you’d stop!” Michael said, sitting on the stairs out of her way.

Calcifer, cowering at the back of the grate, muttered, “I wish I’d never made that bargain with you now!”

Sophie scrubbed on vigorously. “You’ll be much happier when it’s all nice and clean,” she said.

“But I’m miserable now!” Michael protested.

Howl did not come back again until late that night. By that time Sophie had swept and scrubbed herself into a state when she could hardly move. She was sitting hunched up in the chair, aching all over. Michael took hold of Howl by a trailing sleeve and towed him over to the bathroom, where Sophie could hear him pouring out complaints in a passionate mutter. Phrases like “terrible old biddy” and “won’t listen to a word!” were quite easy to hear, even though Calcifer was roaring, “Howl, stop her! She’s killing us both!”

But all Howl said, when Michael let go of him, was “Did you kill any spiders?”

“Of course not!” Sophie snapped. Her aches made her irritable. “They look at me and run for their lives. What are they? All the girls whose hearts you ate?”

Howl laughed. “No, just simple spiders,” he said and went dreamily away upstairs.

Michael sighed. He went into the broom cupboard and hunted until he found an old folding bed, a straw mattress, and some rugs, which he put into the arched space under the stairs. “You’d better sleep here tonight,” he told Sophie.

“Does that mean Howl’s going to let me stay?” Sophie asked.

“I don’t know!” Michael said irritably. “Howl never commits himself to anything. I was here six months before he seemed to notice I was living here and made me his apprentice. I just thought a bed would be better than the chair.”

“Then thank you very much,” Sophie said gratefully. The bed was indeed more comfortable than a chair, and when Calcifer complained he was hungry in the night, it was an easy matter for Sophie to creak her way out and give him another log.

In the days that followed, Sophie cleaned her way remorselessly through the castle. She really enjoyed herself. Telling herself she was looking for clues, she washed the window, she cleaned out the oozing sink, and she made Michael clear everything off the workbench and the shelves so that she could scrub them. She had everything out of the cupboards and down from the beams and cleaned those too. The human skull, she fancied, began to look as long-suffering as Michael. It had been moved so often. Then she tacked an old sheet to the beams nearest the fireplace and forced Calcifer to bend his head down while she swept the chimney. Calcifer hated that. He crackled with mean laughter when Sophie discovered that soot had got all over the room and she had to clean it all again. That was Sophie’s trouble. She was remorseless, but she lacked method. But there was this method to her remorselessness: she calculated that she could not clean this thoroughly without sooner or later coming across Howl’s hidden hoard of girls’ souls, or chewed hearts—or else something that explained Calcifer’s contract. Up the chimney, guarded by Calcifer, had struck her as a good hiding place. But there was nothing there but quantities of soot, which Sophie stored in bags in the yard. The yard was high on her list of hiding places.

Every time Howl came in, Michael and Calcifer complained loudly about Sophie. But Howl did not seem to attend. Nor did he seem to notice the cleanliness. And nor did he notice that the food closet became very well stocked with cakes and jam and the occasional lettuce.

For, as Michael had prophesied, word had gone round Porthaven. People came to the door to look at Sophie. They called her Mrs. Witch in Porthaven and Madam Sorceress in Kingsbury. Word had gone round the capital too. Though the people who came to the Kingsbury door were better dressed than those in Porthaven, no one in either place liked to call on someone so powerful without an excuse. So Sophie was always having to pause in her work to nod and smile and take in a gift, or to get Michael to put up a quick spell for someone. Some of the gifts were nice things—pictures, strings of shells, and useful aprons. Sophie used the aprons daily and hung the shells and pictures round her cubbyhole under the stairs, which soon began to look very homelike indeed.

Sophie knew she would miss this when Howl turned her out. She became more and more afraid that he would. She knew he could not go on ignoring her forever.

She cleaned the bathroom next. That took her days, because Howl spent so long in it every day before he went out. As soon as he went, leaving it full of steam and scented spells, Sophie moved in. “Now we’ll see about that contract!” she muttered at the bath, but her main target was of course the shelf of packets, jars, and tubes. She took every one of them down, on the pretext of scrubbing the shelf, and spent most of a day carefully going through them to see if the ones labeled SKIN, EYES, and HAIR were in fact pieces of girl. As far as she could tell, they were all just creams and powders and paint. If they once had been girls, then Sophie thought Howl had used the tube FOR DECAY on them and rotted them down the washbasin too thoroughly to recall. But she hoped they were only cosmetics in the packets.

She put the things back on the shelf and scrubbed. That night, as she sat aching in the chair, Calcifer grumbled that he had drained one hot spring dry for her.

“Where are the hot springs?” Sophie asked. She was curious about everything these days.

“Under the Porthaven Marshes mostly,” Calcifer said. “But if you go on like this, I’ll have to fetch hot water from the Waste. When are you going to stop cleaning and find out how to break my contract?”

“In good time,” said Sophie. “How can I get the terms out of Howl if he’s never in? Is he always away this much?”

“Only when he’s after a lady,” Calcifer said.

When the bathroom was clean and gleaming, Sophie scrubbed the stairs and the landing upstairs. Then she moved on into Michael’s small front room. Michael, who by this time seemed to be accepting Sophie gloomily as a sort of natural disaster, gave a yell of dismay and pounded upstairs to rescue his most treasured possessions. They were in an old box under his worm-eaten little bed. As he hurried the box protectively away, Sophie glimpsed a blue ribbon and a spun-sugar rose in it, on top of what seemed to be letters.

“So Michael has a sweetheart!” she said to herself as she flung the window open—it opened into the street in Porthaven too—and heaved his bedding across the sill to air. Considering how nosy she had lately become, Sophie was rather surprised at herself for not asking Michael who his girl was and how he kept her safe from Howl.

She swept such quantities of dust and rubbish from Michael’s room that she nearly swamped Calcifer trying to burn it all.

“You’ll be the death of me! You’re as heartless as Howl!” Calcifer choked. Only his green hair and a blue piece of his long forehead showed.

Michael put his precious box in the drawer of the workbench and locked the drawer. “I wish Howl would listen to us!” he said. “Why is this girl taking him so long?”

The next day Sophie tried to start on the backyard. But it was raining in Porthaven that day, driving against the window and pattering in the chimney, making Calcifer hiss with annoyance. The yard was part of the Porthaven house too, so it was pouring out there when Sophie opened the door. She put her apron over her head and rummaged a little, and before she got too wet, she found a bucket of whitewash and a large paintbrush. She took these indoors and set to work on the walls. She found an old stepladder in the broom cupboard and she whitewashed the ceiling between the beams too. It rained for the next two days in Porthaven, though when Howl opened the door with the knob green-blob-down and stepped out onto the hill, the weather there was sunny, with big cloud shadows racing over the heather faster than the castle could move. Sophie whitewashed her cubbyhole, the stairs, the landing, and Michael’s room.

“What’s happened in here?” Howl asked when he came in on the third day. “It seems much lighter.”

“Sophie,” Michael said in a voice of doom.

“I should have guessed,” Howl said as he disappeared into the bathroom.

“He noticed!” Michael whispered to Calcifer. “The girl must be giving in at last!”

It was still drizzling in Porthaven the next day. Sophie tied on her headcloth, rolled up her sleeves, and girded on her apron. She collected her besom, her bucket, and her soap, and as soon as Howl was out of the door, she set off like an elderly avenging angel to clean Howl’s bedroom.

She had left that until last for fear of what she would find. She had not even dared peep into it. And that was silly, she thought as she hobbled up the stairs. By now it was clear that Calcifer did all the strong magic in the castle and Michael did all the hackwork, while Howl gadded off catching girls and exploiting the other two just as Fanny had exploited her. Sophie had never found Howl particularly frightening. Now she felt nothing but contempt.

She arrived on the landing and found Howl standing in the doorway of his bedroom. He was leaning lazily on one hand, completely blocking her way.

“No you don’t,” he said quite pleasantly. “I want it dirty, thank you.”

Sophie gaped at him. “Where did you come from? I saw you go out.”

“I meant you to,” said Howl. “You’d done your worst with Calcifer and poor Michael. It stood to reason you’d descend on me today. And whatever Calcifer told you, I am a wizard, you know. Didn’t you think I could do magic?”

This undermined all Sophie’s assumptions. She would have died rather than admit it. “Everyone knows you’re a wizard, young man,” she said severely. “But that doesn’t alter the fact that your castle is the dirtiest place I’ve ever been in.” She looked into the room past Howl’s dangling blue-and-silver sleeve. The carpet on the floor was littered like a bird’s nest. She glimpsed peeling walls and a shelf full of books, some of them very queer-looking. There was no sign of a pile of gnawed hearts, but those were probably behind or under the huge fourposter bed. Its hangings were gray-white with dust and they prevented her from seeing what the window looked out onto.

Howl swung his sleeve in front of her face. “Uh-uh. Don’t be nosy.”

“I’m not being nosy!” Sophie protested. “That room—!”

“Yes, you are nosy,” said Howl. “You’re a dreadfully nosy, horribly bossy, appallingly clean old woman. Control yourself. You’re victimizing us all.”

“But it’s a pigsty,” said Sophie. “I can’t help what I am!”

“Yes you can,” said Howl. “And I like my room the way it is. You must admit I have a right to live in a pigsty if I want. Now go downstairs and think of something else to do. Please. I hate quarreling with people.”

There was nothing Sophie could do but hobble away with her bucket clanking by her side. She was a little shaken, and very surprised that Howl had not thrown her out of the castle on the spot. But since he had not, she thought of the next thing that needed doing at once. She opened the door beside the stairs, found the drizzle had almost stopped, and sallied out into the yard, where she began vigorously sorting through piles of dripping rubbish.

There was a metallic clash! and Howl appeared again, stumbling slightly, in the middle of the large sheet of rusty iron Sophie had been going to move next.

“Not here either,” he said. “You are a terror, aren’t you? Leave this yard alone. I know just where everything is in it, and I won’t be able to find the things I need for my transport spells if you tidy them up.”

So there was probably a bundle of souls or a box of chewed hearts somewhere out here, Sophie thought. She felt really thwarted. “Tidying up is what I’m here for!” she shouted at Howl.

“Then you must think of a new meaning for your life,” Howl said. For a moment it seemed as if he was going to lose his temper too. His strange, pale eyes all but glared at Sophie. But he controlled himself and said, “Now trot along indoors, you overactive old thing, and find something else to play with before I get angry. I hate getting angry.”

Sophie folded her skinny arms. She did not like being glared at by eyes like glass marbles. “Of course you hate getting angry!” she retorted. “You don’t like anything unpleasant, do you? You’re a slitherer-outer, that’s what you are! You slither away from anything you don’t like!”

Howl gave a forced sort of smile. “Well now,” he said. “Now we both know each other’s faults. Now go back into the house. Go on. Back.” He advanced on Sophie, waving her toward the door. The sleeve on his waving arm caught the edge of the rusty metal, jerked, and tore. “Damnation!” said Howl, holding up the trailing blue-and-silver ends. “Look what you’ve made me do!”

“I can mend it,” Sophie said.

Howl gave her another glassy look. “There you go again,” he said. “How you must love servitude!” He took his torn sleeve gently between the fingers of his right hand and pulled it through them. As the blue-and-silver fabric left his fingers, there was no tear in it at all. “There,” he said. “Understand?”

Sophie hobbled back indoors, rather chastened. Wizards clearly had no need to work in the ordinary way. Howl had shown her he really was a wizard to be reckoned with. “Why didn’t he turn me out?” she said, half to herself and half to Michael.

“It beats me,” said Michael. “But I think he goes by Calcifer. Most people who come in here either don’t notice Calcifer, or they’re scared stiff of him.”

Chapter Six


Howl did not go out that day, nor for the next few days. Sophie sat quietly in the chair by the hearth, keeping out of his way and thinking. She saw that, much as Howl deserved it, she had been taking out her feelings on the castle when she was really angry with the Witch of the Waste. And she was a little upset at the thought that she was here on false pretenses. Howl might think Calcifer liked her, but Sophie knew Calcifer had simply seized on the chance to make a bargain with her. Sophie rather thought she had let Calcifer down.

This state of mind did not last. Sophie discovered a pile of Michael’s clothes that needed mending. She fetched out thimble, scissors, and thread from her sewing pocket and set to work. By that evening she was cheerful enough to join in Calcifer’s silly little song about saucepans.

“Happy in your work?” Howl said sarcastically.

“I need more to do,” Sophie said.

“My old suit needs mending, if you have to feel busy,” said Howl.

This seemed to mean that Howl was no longer annoyed. Sophie was relieved. She had been almost frightened that morning.

It was clear Howl had not yet caught the girl he was after. Sophie listened to Michael asking rather obvious questions about it, and Howl slithering neatly out of answering any of them. “He is a slitherer-outer,” Sophie murmured to a pair of Michael’s socks. “Can’t face his own wickedness.” She watched Howl being restlessly busy in order to hide his discontent. That was something Sophie understood rather well.

At the bench Howl worked a good deal harder and faster than Michael, putting spells together in an expert but slapdash way. From the look on Michael’s face, most of the spells were both unusual and hard to do. But Howl would leave a spell midway and dash up to his bedroom to look after something hidden—and no doubt sinister—going on up there, and then shortly race out into the yard to tinker with a large spell out there. Sophie opened the door a crack and was rather amazed to see the elegant wizard kneeling in the mud with his long sleeves tied together behind his neck to keep them out of the way while he carefully heaved a tangle of greasy metal into a special framework of some kind.

That spell was for the King. Another overdressed and scented messenger arrived with a letter and a long, long speech in which he wondered if Howl could possibly spare time, no doubt valuably employed in other ways, to bend his powerful and ingenious mind to a small problem experienced by His Royal Majesty—to whit, how an army might get its heavy wagons through marsh and rough ground. Howl was wonderfully polite and long-winded in reply. He said no. But the messenger spoke for a further half-hour, at the end of which he and Howl bowed to one another and Howl agreed to do the spell.

“This is a bit ominous,” Howl said to Michael when the messenger had gone. “What did Suliman have to get himself lost in the Waste for? The King seems to think I’ll do instead.”

“He wasn’t as inventive as you, by all accounts,” Michael said.

“I’m too patient and too polite,” Howl said gloomily. “I should have overcharged him even more.”

Howl was equally patient and polite with customers from Porthaven, but, as Michael anxiously pointed out, the trouble was that Howl did not charge these people enough. This was after Howl had listened for an hour to the reasons why a seaman’s wife could not pay him a penny yet, and then