Aurelia and Cassius strode into the library. Xander and Oz were at the computer set up on the table. "Oh! Auri, Oz and I found out…."
"What do we know about these kids?" Aurelia interrupted.
"Well, they were, uh, found in the park."
"No. Where did they go to school? Who were their parents? What are their names?" No one could answer her. "We know everything about their deaths, but we don't even know their names."
"Well, sure we do. Um, it's on the tip of my tongue."
"That never came up." Oz said. "Ever."
"And if no one knows who they are, where did these pictures come from?"
"We just assumed someone had the details." Xander said.
"We need to get some information."
"I can look around, but Willow would really know the sites we need." Oz said.
"That's great. She can't even come to the phone. The wrath of MOO."
"Well, we don't need a phone." Oz started typing away on the computer. It beeped a couple of times and he said, "Alright, we're linked. If anybody's ID'd the kids, she'll pull it up and feed it here." They waited for a few minutes and a few pages were sent to the computer. Oz brought up the pages as Willow found them. "'Two Children Found Dead. Mysterious Mark….' These kids were found near Omaha in 1949."
"Yeah, they ain't ours. Keep going." Xander said.
Before Oz could move on from the accompanying image loaded from the internet. "Wait. Those are the same kids."
"Fifty years ago." Oz said. He loaded the next page. "'1899. Utah…. Two Children…. Rural Community Torn Apart by Suspicion.'"
"A hundred years ago? How is this happening?" Xander asked.
"There's no mention of who they were."
"They've never been seen alive, just dead. A lot." Aurelia said.
The next page loaded. This one was dated 1649 and had a hand drawing of the two children. An Instant Message window popped up with a note from Willow. "Ah. There were more articles. Every fifty years. All the same." Oz paraphrased. He sighed. "I can't read this and neither can Willow."
"May I?" Oz surrendered his place to Aurelia. She read the German on the page and translated easily. "Written by a cleric from a village near the Black Forest. He…. found the bodies himself. Two children…. Greta Strauss, age six. Hans Strauss, eight."
"So they have names. That's new." Xander said.
"Oh, it beeped." Aurelia gave Oz his seat back. He started scrolling through more of the articles.
"There's a fringe theory held by a few folklorists that some regional stories have very literal antecedents." Cassius said.
"What?" Xander asked.
"Fairy tales are real." Aurelia said.
"Hans and Gre…." Oz's mind clicked. "Hansel and Gretel!"
"Wait. Hansel and Gretel? Breadcrumbs, ovens, gingerbread house?" Xander asked.
"Some demons thrive by fostering hatred and persecution amongst the mortal animals." Cassius said. "Not by destroying men, but by watching men destroy each other. They feed us our darkest fear and turn peaceful communities into vigilantes."
"I know you're old and all, but stop talking like Giles!"
Aurelia sighed. "Hansel and Gretel run home to tell everyone about the mean old witch. And then she and probably dozens of others are persecuted by a righteous mob. It's happened all throughout history. It happened in Salem."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm still spinning on this whole fairy tales are real thing."
"So what do we do?" Oz asked.
"I don't know about you, but I'm gonna go trade my cow in for some beans." Xander got confused looks from Aurelia and Oz. "No one else is seeing the funny here."
"We need to talk to my mom. If she knows the truth, she can defuse the whole thing." Aurelia grabbed her coat and started to leave with Cassius. Just then Michael came running into the library with a slight limp. He'd been beaten and was severely bruised. He had a black eye and his face was bloody. "What happened?"
"I was attacked!" Michael cried, out of breath.
"Officially not funny." Xander said.
"By whom?" Aurelia asked.
"My dad. His friends. They're taking people out of their homes. They're talking about a trial down at City Hall. They got Amy."
"Michael, stay here and hide. I'll go find my mom."
Oz got Xander's attention. "Willow!" The two of them ran out of the library.
"Tell Willow to get out of her house!" Michael called after them.
"Stay in Giles' office." Aurelia said. "Lock the door. Hide under the desk if you have to." She and Cassius ran out of the library. When they got to her house, there were about twenty cars parked around it. She rushed up onto the porch and burst through the front door, Cassius right on her heels.
Joyce looked up in surprise. "Buffy! Angel! Did something happen?"
"Mom, we need to talk to you. Now."
"Well, of course, honey. Um, go on without me."
"No, we need to talk alone." They started into the dining room. "Look, there's more to this than…." Suddenly Joyce held a cloth up to Aurelia'ss mouth and nose and two of the men there jumped Cassius from behind, wrestling him to the floor and hitting him over the head with a baseball bat, knocking him out. Aurelia quickly collapsed to the floor, overcome by the fumes from the cloth.
"You were right." Joyce said, looking behind her. "I-it was easy." There were the two children standing on the stairs. The boy was holding a bottle of chloroform in his hand.
"I told you." The girl said.
"It gets even easier." The boy said.
"But I'm still scared of the bad girls."
"You have to stop them. You have to make them go away. Forever."
Aurelia passed out then.
A crowd was gathered in the main meeting room at City Hall. A few of them were bearing torches. They all calmly watched as two of them finished tying Willow and Amy to stakes. "Hold still. Be a good girl." Willow's mother, Shelia, was saying. Aurelia was between Willow and Amy, unconscious and also tied to a stake. Piled all around them were the library books that MOO had deemed offensive, ready to burn in a glorious blaze.
"No! Why are you doing this to me? Mom?" Willow cried.
"There's no cure but the fire." Shelia said.
Amy struggled against her ropes. "Buffy! Wake up!"
"This is crazy, Mom!" Willow cried.
Cordelia kneeled over Cassius and gave him a sharp slap to the face. "Wake up!" She slapped him two more times and he began to come out of it. She was about to slap again, when he suddenly reached up and grabbed her wrist.
"Cordelia?" He groaned.
"Took you long enough to wake up. My hand hurts."
"Why are you here?"
"Things are way out of control. First the thing at school, and then my mom confiscates all of my black clothes and scented candles. I came over here to tell Buffy to stop this craziness and found you all unconscious."
Cassius jumped up. "We need to save Aurelia from Hansel and Gretel." He headed for the front door.
Cordelia followed him out. "Now, let's be clear. The brain damage happened before I hit you."
Aurelia began to stir back to consciousness. "Aurelia!" Willow yelled.
Aurelia woke up and struggled against her bonds. "Good morning, sleepyhead." Joyce said.
"Mom, you don't want this." Aurelia begged.
"Since when does it matter what I want? I wanted a normal, happy daughter. Instead I got a Slayer who's not even really my daughter."
Sheila joined Joyce bearing a torch. "Torch."
"Thanks." Joyce said, taking it. "This has been so trying. You've been such a champ."
"Oh, you, too, Joyce."
"We should stay close, have lunch."
"Oh, I'd like that. How nice."
Joyce bent down to set fire to the books.
"Oh, you can't be serious!" Amy cried.
"Mom, don't!" Aurelia yelled.
Joyce touched the torch to the books and they began to burn. Others with torches set the books ablaze all around them.
"Alright. You wanna fry a witch?" Amy growled. "I'll give you a witch! Goddess Hecate, work thy will!" Amy's eyes turned pitch black and the energy of her spell began to swirl around her. "Before thee let the unclean thing crawl!" She shivered as the spell's power increased around her, building ever greater strength. Finally, since she hadn't directed the spell at anyone else, it worked on her. She was engulfed by a sudden burst of flame. People in the crowd screamed as they watched. An instant later, Amy's clothes were empty and they and the ropes dropped to the books below. Everyone stared in amazement as a rat came crawling out of Amy's clothes. It scampered down the pile of books and scurried across the floor. The frightened adults jumped out of its way.
Aurelia could only watch Amy go. "She couldn't do us first?"
"You've seen what we can do!" Willow cried. "Another step and you will all feel my power!"
"What are you gonna do, float a pencil at them?"
"It's a really big power!"
Aurelia rolled her eyes and got into it too. "Yes! You will all be turned into vermin. And some of you will be fish! Yes, you in the back will be fish!"
Aurelia heard a man in the back say, "Maybe we should go."
The two children suddenly appeared. "But you promised." The boy said.
"You have to kill the bad girls." The girl said.
Cassius and Cordelia raced to City Hall in her car. "I can't believe Giles had this stuff in his apartment. It smells foul. And hey, is he going to be mad that you broke into his apartment?"
"I'm sure he'll excuse me this time." Cassius said, paying more attention to the spell. "Shred the wolfsbane. Crush the satyrion root. Luften sie den something. Schlumer? Schluter?"
"What are you muttering about?"
"It's a part of an incantation. It's in German, and without Giles' books…."
"What does it mean?"
"It's about lifting a veil. It should make the demons appear in their true form which should cancel out their influence." He went back to the spell. "Drop a toadstone into the mixture."
"It doesn't look like a toad."
"It's from inside the toad."
The fires were getting bigger, but still hadn't reached the girls yet. Hansel and Gretel stood at the front of the crowd as they watched the flames grow and advance. They were talking, but Aurelia wasn't listening. She was trying to reason with her mother. "Mom, dead people are talking to you. Wake up!"
"I'm sorry, Buffy." Joyce said.
"Mom, look at me! You love me. You're not going to be able to live with yourself if you do this!"
"You earned this. You toyed with unnatural forces. What kind of a mother would I be if I didn't punish you?"
"Aurelia, I can't take it! It's too hot!" Willow said.
"I'm so sorry, Willow." Aurelia said. "If it wasn't for me, none of this would have happened. It wouldn't be…. Cassius!" She smiled brightly when she saw him burst through the door with Cordelia. He pointed Cordelia to a fire hose in the corner and she went to it and smashed the glass with her elbow, holding up her hand to protect her face from the glass. The noise got the crowd's attention.
"Stop them!" Joyce ordered.
Cordelia pulled out the hose and turned it on, spraying the advancing crowd. Cassius started reciting his incantation in very bad, unintelligible German, muffled by the sound of the water spraying. In spite of all the spraying, not very much water had gotten on the flames and they had gotten dangerously close to Willow.
"Aurelia, I'm on fire!" Willow screamed.
"Cordelia, put out the fire!" Aurelia ordered.
"Oh, right." Cordelia turned the stream of water on the flames and quickly doused them. When she got the last of the flames extinguished, she turned off the water. Hansel and Gretel slowly walked up to them, closing in on Cassius.
Cassius raised the bottle with his potion high and recited an incantation. He threw the bottle to the floor, smashing it in front of the children. The potion began to steam around them. Hansel and Gretel looked at each other and embraced. A moment later the two children morphed into a single demon standing over seven feet tall. Its ears were pointed and huge fangs jutted from its lower jaw. Its skin was red and mottled and its hair was long and tangled.
"Ok, I think I liked the two little ones more than the one big one." Cordelia said.
Sheila and Joyce stared up at the demon in horror. The other people in the room all ran out screaming. The demon turned to face Aurelia. Out of her trance now, Joyce looked at the two girls tied up and helpless against him. "Oh, my God!" She cried.
"Protect us! Kill the bad girls!" The demon said.
"You know what? Not as convincing without the children disguise." Aurelia said, struggling against her bonds. The ropes didn't give, but the stake broke. It was top heavy now and forced ger to bend over so the tip was pointing at the demon, who couldn't stop his advance and impaled himself through the neck. Aurelia couldn't straighten herself back up with the weight of the demon's body at the other end of the stake, and so couldn't see the result of her unwitting maneuver.
"Did I get it? Did I get it?" She cried.
Suddenly the ceiling gave way above them and Oz and Xander came crashing down. The books broke their fall. They looked up weakly at Aurelia and the dead demon. "We're here to save you." Oz said.
A few nights later, Aurelia and Willow were sitting in Willow's bedroom. They had a number of bowls and jars of powders and potions laid out. Several candles were burning as Willow idly crushed some herbs in a bowl.
"Your mom doesn't mind us doing this in the house?" Aurelia asked.
"She doesn't know." Willow said.
"Business as usual?"
"Hmm, sort of. She's doing that selective memory thing your mom used to be so good at."
"She forgot everything?"
"No. She remembered the part where I said I was dating a musician." Willow took a pinch of the herbs she'd crushed and sprinkled it onto a ceremonial iron plate set out between the girls. "Oz has to come for dinner next week. So, that's sort of like taking an interest."
"Ok, should we try this again?"
"Let's do it. I think we got the mix of herbs right this time."
"Ok. Ready?" Aurelia lit a match and set it to the mixture of herbs and roots on the plate while Willow recited her spell. It began to burn, emitting purple smoke.
"Diana, Hecate, I hereby license thee to depart. Goddess of creatures great and small, I conjure thee to withdraw." Willow and Aurelia both looked over at Amy the rat. She got up on her hind legs expectantly, but nothing happened.
Aurelia looked over at Willow. "Maybe we should get her one of those wheel things."