I'm probably going to write quite a few Ghibli fics, but Howl's Moving Castle is one of my favorites, so I'm starting with this one.
The One and Only Disclaimer: Wish it was mine, but it ain't and I'm broke.
In Which Howl Makes Several Miscalculations
Howl would probably not have heard of the magic in the town of Market Chipping if it were not for May Day. At least, not for another few months or so, in which case he might have already moved the castle a good ways off and would not be in any position to visit the town in search of that rumored magic. But he was in Market Chipping on May Day and he did hear about the magic. And it was only hearsay, much like his reputation as a heart-eating soul-stealer, but it was a worthy scrap of gossip to pursue if there ever was one. And, besides that, he could taste the magic in this town.
Were he less experienced, he might have thought it the Witch's leftovers from when she used to terrorize little towns like this one (including this one), but the Witch's magic was witchcraft, which had a sour, rotten smell to it, as it was unnatural. This magic was savory and organic and soft. It was real. It was new.
There was a young new magician in the world, one with an abundance of clean, natural magic, probably something they had been born with, and Howl was determined to find them before the Witch did. The Witch detested natural magic and would probably choke all the goodness out of a child blessed with it. Choke the magic too, while she was at it, and kill the child for good measure, just because she was hateful that way. Howl couldn't let that happen.
So he stayed in the town longer than was probably wise without May Day to disguise him, sniffing after pinches of pure magic, searching for the source. May Day had been enjoyable, of course, although there was that odd encounter with that timid girl who had spurned him and his polite advances as though he were some fearsome creature. He hadn't been sure what to make of that. He had even gentled his tone when he realized that she seemed frightened, explaining that he wanted nothing more than to make pleasantries and perhaps buy her a drink, but she fled from him. He even offered to walk her to wherever it was she was going, perhaps to make her feel more secure, but that just seemed to make things worse.
Admittedly, although it probably had nothing to do with him and all to do with her, Howl's pride was hurt by that encounter. He had always considered himself to be incredibly charming when he was in the mood to be, and had never had any problems with women in that regard (in other ways, he had nothing but problems, but on the matter of charm, he was perfectly flawless). There simply had to have been something wrong with the little grey mouse of a girl.
Howl didn't think too much about that while he searched. It helped that he didn't see her again afterwards.
And then the Witch came into town.
And then the Witch left town.
Howl allowed himself a moment of despair, believing that he had failed and that she had found the child and killed them in quick order while he was still searching, but that did not last. Fresh streaks of magic still wound themselves through Market Chipping just as they did before the Witch came. Perhaps even more vigorously than before, although it had been especially noticeable on May Day.
After convincing himself that he could rest without worrying about the Witch again, at least not for short while, he went back to the castle. He wanted a bath, and to rest in his own bed, and to talk to Markl.
Poor Markl only had the littlest bit of natural magic in him, but it was just enough for him to perform some spells without creating anything awful or wrong, like the Witch of the Waste did. Markl, as long as he knew his own limits, would never make himself sick with magic. And, if Howl was even half a good instructor, then Markl would know to never, ever resort to witchcraft.
It was caution, and not any appreciation for talent, that had urged Howl to take Markl on. It was a sad truth, really. Markl had enough determination to become a mage, if he liked, but he simply didn't have the magic in him. Markl would have to resort to potions and simple charms for the rest of his life, which, if Howl was honest, was probably a good thing. With no ability or talent for spellcasting, Markl would never be of interest to the King or Madame Suliman, while charms and potions were just the sorts of things that would keep Markl in business as a modest town wizard one day.
Howl had always lamented this, as he would have liked to have an apprentice who he could really pass his knowledge to, but now, he supposed he would have that opportunity. Markl was practically teaching himself potions these days and needed only a little help with his charms, and if there really was a child born with magic in Market Chipping, then Howl could make them his apprentice with no real detriment to Markl's education.
Markl might not be happy about sharing Howl's attention, but he would probably be grateful for a playmate. He had to have been getting lonely with only Howl and Calcifer for company.
Howl sighed gustily as he sat in front of Calcifer's fireplace. He hadn't slept last night, not with his desperate search, and he was suffering for it now. His muscles ached and his eyes were watery and his clothes were rumpled and his hair – his hair…
"Your heart sure was excited about something," Calcifer crackled softly. He was hidden under two burnt logs and his embers were rather dim. Howl fed the fire spirit a log.
"I did have a bit of a scare today," Howl admitted, planning on telling Calcifer about the mysterious magic.
Calcifer would be relieved, surely, that Howl planned on staying here to look for whatever magical child was in Market Chipping. Not that Calcifer would care either way as to why, but he would rather not move the castle again so soon after getting here. Roaming the hills could be good fun, but they had been doing that for a good while and Calcifer had gotten into the habit of whining and demanding food every time Howl asked him to nudge the castle even a few miles. A short break would get the fire spirit back into good spirits, which Howl dearly needed – if he found the child had to make a quick escape to keep the budding magician away from the Witch, then he would need Calcifer to make time and move without any delay.
"Not today," Calcifer refuted. "Yesterday. May Day. Your heart did a little—" And then Calcifer made an odd, flickering, twisting motion with his innermost flames. "Like that."
May Day? Nothing so particular had happened on May Day. Well, he had noticed the magic then, but he had noticed it gradually and it shouldn't have made his heart do anything at all except momentarily speed up, if even that. Or… there had been the girl, but… no. No, that was just silly. He had felt more insulted and confused than anything by that encounter.
"I don't know what did that," Howl denied. "It was an eventful day. I found magic!"
"Magic?" Calcifer didn't sound like he actually cared, which Howl expected, but then Calcifer continued on to say, "What sort of magic?"
"The natural kind," said Howl. "It tasted clean. I think a child was been born with it."
"Better find him before the Witch of the Waste does," Calcifer said in counsel, and then rolled himself over his fresh log and began to gnaw on it with snarling, grinding sounds.
"Yes, I had better," Howl agreed. "But I'll stay in for tonight. She's come and gone already and the magic is still alive. I don't think she'll be back for some time."
"D'n't p'crstnt," Calcifer grumbled around his log. Don't procrastinate.
Howl huffed softly. Why would he ever procrastinate about something he was so eager for?
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