A large crowd had gathered in the main conference room at City Hall. Many of them were holding up signs with pictures of the two children and the words "Never Again!" Aurelia, Cassius, and Willow walked in and looked around at the crowd.
"This is great. Maybe we could all go patrolling together later." Aurelia said.
"At least your mom's making an effort." Willow said. "My mom's probably…. standing right in front of me right this second." Her mother saw them and came up to them. "Mom?"
"Willow, I-I didn't know you were going to be here." Shelia said. "Oh, hi, Bunny."
"Hi." Aurelia said, rolling her eyes.
"Mom, what are you doing here?" Willow asked.
"Oh, well, I read about it in the paper, and what with your dad out of town…." Shelia stopped, looking surprised. "Willow, you cut off your hair! Huh. That's a new look."
"Yeah, it's just a sudden whim I had…. in August."
"I like it." Joyce came over to join them and Sheila reached out to shake hands. "Hello, Joyce."
"Sheila, I'm glad you could come." Joyce said.
"Quite a turnout you have here." Cassius said.
"Oh, well, it's, it's not just me, but thank you."
"There's a rumor going around, Willow."
"Rumor about what?" Willow asked.
"About witches. People calling themselves witches are responsible for this brutal crime."
Willow laughed nervously, trying to play it off. "Strange! Witches!"
"Well, actually, not that strange. I recently co-authored a paper about the rise of mysticism among adolescents, and I was shocked at the statistical…." Sheila was interrupted by some electronic feedback when the Mayor tested the microphone as he stepped up to the lectern. "Oh. Oh, a-are we starting?"
The Mayor cleared his throat and sniffled. Joyce made her way around behind everyone over to Aurelia and Cassius, who were both frowning up at the Mayor. "Hello, everybody." The Mayor said.
"He'll do something about this. You'll see." Joyce whispered to her daughter.
"Um…. I wanna thank you all for coming in the aftermath of such a tragic crime. Seeing you all here proves what a caring community Sunnydale is. Now, sure, we've had our share of misfortunes, but we're a good town with good people, and I know that none of us will rest easy until this horrible murder is solved. With that in mind…." He picked up one of the signs. "I make these words my pledge to you. 'Never again!' Now I ask you to give your attention to the woman who brought us all here tonight, Joyce Summers." The Mayor stepped away as Joyce walked to the front of the room and stepped up to the lectern.
"Thank you." Joyce considered her words for a moment before beginning. "Mr. Mayor, you're dead wrong. This is not a good town. How many of us have, have lost someone who, who just disappeared? Or, or got skinned? Or suffered neck rupture? And how many of us have been too afraid to speak out? I-I was supposed to lead us in a moment of silence, but…. silence is this town's disease. For too long we-we've been plagued by unnatural evils. This isn't our town anymore. It belongs to the monsters and, and the witches, and the Slayers." Aurelia's mouth fell open in shock. She and Willow exchanged worried glances before Cassius gripped Aurelia's hand. "I say it's time for the grownups to take Sunnydale back. I say we start by finding the people who did this and making them pay."
The people in the crowd began to applaud. "Hear, hear!" One man yelled. Sheila clapped her hands and looked around at the other people. A man nodded his head in silent agreement. Aurelia was too much in shock to do anything but stare at her mother.
Michael had his locker open and checked his black makeup in the mirror stuck to the inside of the locker door. A group of guys came up to him, and Roy, their leader, slammed the locker door shut. "Watch it." Michael said.
"Oh, sorry." Roy said. "Did I make you smudge your eyeliner?" Michael rolled his eyes and shook his head. "You gonna put a spell on me?"
Amy came to Michael's defense. "Hey, what is your problem?"
Roy grabbed Michael by the shirt and slammed him up against the lockers. "Everyone knows he's into that voodoo witchcraft. I heard about those kids. People like him…." He slammed Michael again. "Gotta learn a lesson."
"And what about people like me?"
"Get in my face and you'll find out."
Aurelia stepped up behind Amy and gave Roy a smile. He noticed her and suddenly thought better of going any further. He let Michael go and straightened his shirt a bit. "No problem here. We're walking."
Aurelia followed them for a few steps, then turned back to Michael and Amy. "Are you all ok?"
"Yeah. We're fine." Michael walked off.
"Thanks, Buffy." Amy said, following Michael.
Aurelia looked back down the hall to make sure the gang was still headed away. She started toward the library, but was headed off by Cordelia. "You'll be one busy little Slayer, baby-sitting them."
"I doubt they'll have any more trouble." Aurelia said.
"I doubt your doubt. Everyone knows that witches killed those kids, and Amy is a witch. And Michael is whatever the boy of witch is, plus being the poster child for yuck."
"If you're gonna hang with them, expect badness. Cause that's what you get when you hang with freaks and losers. Believe me, I know." She started down the hall, but stopped and turned back to Aurelia. "That was a pointed comment about me hanging with you guys."
"Yeah, I got that one." Aurelia rolled her eyes and headed to the library. She was stopped by the student lounge by Xander.
"Aurelia, hi." He called.
"Hey. Is Willow around?"
"How can I convince you people that it's over? You assume because I'm here, she's here, that I somehow mysteriously know where she is."
"Are those her books?" Aurelia pointed.
"Yeah. She's in the bathroom. But the fact that I know that doesn't change that I have a genuine complaint here. Look, I'm getting sick of the judgment, the innuendoes. Is a man not innocent until proven guilty?"
"You are guilty. You got illicit kisses, therefore you're going to have to pay the price."
"But I'm talking about the future guilt. Look, everyone expects me to mess up again. Like Oz. I see how he is around me. You know, that steely gaze…. that pointed silence."
"And he's usually such a chatterbox."
"No, but it's different now. It's more a verbal nonverbal. He speaks volumes with his eyes."
Aurelia glanced at Willow's books and noticed a spiral notebook with drawings on it. On the exposed page was the triangle symbol that had been on the kids' hands. Aurelia picked it up and stared.
Willow came out of the bathroom and over to her. "Hey, Aurelia. What cha looking for? You wanna borrow something?"
"What is this?" Aurelia held up the notebook.
"A doodle." Willow took the notebook and closed it. "I do doodle. You, too. You do doodle, too."
"This is a witch symbol."
"Ok, yeah, it is."
"That symbol was on the murdered children."
Before they could get any further into it, they were distracted by the sounds of many lockers suddenly being slammed shut. "Please step back. Stay away from the lockers. This is police business." An officer shouted. Aurelia, Willow, and Xander exchanged alarmed looks. They all headed into the hall to see what was going on. A police officer was going from locker to locker opening them with a master key.
At another locker another officer took some books from a student. "Hand them over, please. The books."
Yet another officer took a string of garlic cloves from a locker and set it on a cart with a bunch of other things they'd confiscated. Principal Snyder stood in the hall, gloating as the police continued their search. Several officers kept the students at bay as a detective led a boy away. Amy had joined the group as they watched all the activity.
"Aw, man, it's Nazi Germany, and I've got Playboys in my locker!" Xander said.
"This is a glorious day for principals everywhere." Snyder called. "No pathetic whining about students' rights. Just a long row of lockers and a man with a key." An officer found a voodoo doll in a locker.
"They just took three kids away." Oz said quietly to Willow.
"What are they looking for?" Aurelia asked.
"Witch stuff." Amy said.
"What?" Willow said.
"They got my spells. I'm supposed to report to Snyder's office."
"Oh, my God."
An officer looked through a girl's purse as another officer stepped up to Amy. "Ok, Amy. You'll have to come with me."
"I have stuff in my locker. Henbane, hellebore, mandrake root." Willow said.
"Excuse me." Xander said. "Playboys. Can we turn the sympathy this way?"
One of the officers had reached Cordelia's locker and pulled out a can of hairspray. "Hey! Get your grubby custodial hands off that." Cordelia tried to approach, but an officer pushed her back.
"Miss, you have to stay back. Miss, stay back."
"That hair spray costs $45, and it's imported!"
"Oh, God, my locker's next." Willow panicked. "Buffy, I didn't do anything wrong." An officer pulled some plastic bags from Willow's locker. "The, the symbol is harmless. I used it to make a protection spell for you, for your birthday. With Michael and Amy. Only, now it's broken, because you know about it, so happy birthday, and please, you have to believe me!"
Snyder walked over to the group with the bags in hand. "Ms. Rosenberg. My office." He held up the bags of henbane and mandrake root. Willow stared back at him, eyes wide with worry and fear. Aurelia discreetly walked in front of her and took Giles' book from her arms. Willow started down the halls in front of Snyder. Oz accompanied her with his hand on her back in a gesture of comfort.
"Xander, the library." Aurelia said, moving off to see if the officers had made it in there yet. Xander followed her. They walked in to find a police officer kicking open the cage door and striding out into the room with a stack of books in his hands. He carried them over to the table and dropped them unceremoniously into a box. Another officer came down from the stacks with another armful of books.
"Oh no!" Aurelia said.
"They're confiscating Giles' books." Xander said.
"We need those books."
"Would you like to try telling that to the nice man with the big gun?"
"There's something about the symbol that we're missing." Aurelia said quietly, pulling Xander to the side. "Willow said she used it in a protection spell. It's harmless. Not a big bad. So then why would it turn up in a ritual sacrifice?"
"This is the part where Giles would say something like 'let's widen our research.'"
Aurelia rolled her eyes. "Using what? A-a dictionary and 'My Friend Flicka'?" She looked around in disgust. "This is intolerable. Snyder's interfered before, but this…."
Snyder walked into the library holding a cup of coffee. "I love the smell of desperate delinquents in the morning."
"Get out! And take your marauders with you." Aurelia growled.
"Oh, my. So fierce. I suppose I should hear your librarian out. Just how is, um…. 'Blood Rites and Sacrifices' appropriate material for a public school library? Chess club branching out?"
"This is not over."
"Oh, I should say it's just beginning. Fight it if you want. Just remember, lift a finger against me, and you'll have to answer to MOO."
"Answer to MOO? Did that sentence just make some sense that I'm not in on?"
"'Mothers Opposed to the Occult.' A powerful new group."
"And who came up with that silly name?"
"That would be the founder. I believe you call her 'Mom'."
Joyce sat at the dining room table in her home surrounded by posters of the two children. She had a MOO button pinned to her blouse. Her laptop was open and a phone and fax sat nearby. The place was set up like a command center. Behind her was a whiteboard full of statistics. Aurelia was standing in front of her and staring in shock as her mother spoke sternly to her.
"I don't want you seeing that Willow anymore. I've spoken with her mother. I had no idea her forays into the occult had gone so far."
"You're the one who ordered the raid on the school today." Aurelia said.
"Honey, they opened a few lockers."
"They're supposed to be private. And they took all of Giles' books away."
"He'll get most of them back. MOO just wants to weed out the offensive material. Everything else will be returned to Mr. Giles soon."
"If we're going to solve this and figure out what's going on with my nightmares, we need those books now."
"Sweetie, those books have no place in a public school library. Especially now. Any student can waltz in there and get all sorts of ideas. Do you understand how that terrifies me?"
"Mom, I hate that these people scared you so much. And I know that you're just trying to help, but you have to let me handle this. It's what I do."
"But is it really? I mean, you patrol, you slay…. Evil pops up, you undo it. A-a-and that's great! But is Sunnydale getting any better? Are they running out of vampires?"
"I don't think that you run out of…."
"It's not your fault. You don't have a plan. You just react to things. I-i-it's bound to be kind of fruitless."
"Ok, maybe I don't have a plan. Lord knows I don't have lapel buttons…."
"And maybe next time that the world is getting sucked into Hell, I won't be able to stop it because the Anti-Hell-Sucking Book isn't on the approved reading list!"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to put down…."
"Well, you did. It doesn't matter. I have to go. I have to go on one of my pointless patrols and react to some vampires. If that's alright with MOO." Aurelia turned around and headed for the door. Joyce just watched her go. "And nice acronym, mom." She muttered, slamming the door behind her.
Aurelia made her way to the park where the children had been found. The carousel was bedecked with candles and flowers and pictures of the children. She pulled her arms to her body for warmth, sighing when she saw Cassius walking up next to her.
"Hey." He said.
"Hi." She buried herself in his arms for a long moment. "How are you?"
"I'm alright. I think I'm better than you right now."
"It's strange. People die in Sunnydale all the time. I've never seen anything like this."
Cassius led her to a bench and they sat down. "They were children. Innocent. It makes a difference."
"And Mr. Sanderson from the bank had it coming? My mom…. said some things to me about being the Slayer. That it's fruitless."
"Is she? Is Sunnydale any better than when I first came here? Ok, so I battle evil. But I don't really win. The bad keeps coming back and getting stronger."
"Aurelia, you know, I'm still figuring things out. There's a lot I don't understand. But I do know it's important to keep fighting. I learned that from you."
"But we never…."
"We never win."
"We never will. That's not why we fight. We do it because there's things worth fighting for. Those kids. Their parents."
"Look, I know it's not much…."
"No. No, it's a lot."
"I'm confused now."
"I've got to talk to the others." She stood up, pulling on his hand.