"You searched everywhere in the house?" Giles glanced from Willow to Xander and back again. He and Buffy had scarcely made it through the backdoor before being ambushed by the young witch. By the time they reached the kitchen, the entire story had spilled out in a fast-paced, disjointed babble. In turn, Giles had quickly summarized the events at the coven. "Are you sure they aren't upstairs or in the basement?"
Willow shook her head. "Dawn is in her room and said they didn't come up there. Xander helped me check the closets and all the other hidy-type places."
Buffy turned a questioning gaze on Giles. "When you went all glowy-bluey, did you make them go kablooey?"
"No. That particular spell requires the caster to be in physical contact with the object."
"Things haven't been working the way they should," Xander said. "Maybe when you zapped the beanstalk you got the kids, too. Sort of a magickal twofer. "
Giles considered the possibility, then shrugged. "It's not very likely. The explanation is apt to be more mundane than magickal. I imagine that after hearing Monica's story, the children became frightened and ran away."
Willow shook her head. "I always keep all the doors locked from the inside."
There was silence for a moment then Xander sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets. "The front door wasn't locked. I was in a hurry this morning, and didn't think about it until I was half-way to Jerry's to pick up that load of lumber."
"This is all my fault," Willow said, with a moan. "I promised to take care of them and now they're out there wandering around thinking they're going to be entrees."
"Don't worry, Will, we'll find them." Xander walked across the kitchen and put his arm around his friend. "Besides, I'm the idiot who forgot
to lock the door. If we're playin' the blame game, I win this round."
"It's not anyone's fault," Giles said. "However, we do need to find the children as quickly as possible." He looked around the assembled group. "Xander, you and Willow take the SUV and check the streets south of the Stadium. Buffy and I will take the car and search the northern part of town. Dawn can wait here, just in case they return."
Willow and Xander hurried out the back door.
Giles looked at Buffy. "Would you mind asking Dawn to come downstairs?"
Buffy nodded and took a step toward the staircase. "Dawn, my dear!" The volume of the shout made the dishes in the cabinet rattle. "Get your rear right down here!"
"Now, why didn't I think of that?" Giles muttered to himself. "It's ever so much more efficient than climbing the stairs and asking in person."
Dawn ignored her sister's yell and continued her conversation with the plump, gray-haired woman with the wand and wings. "Okay, let's go over this one more time. I'm like Cinderella? And you're my Fairy Godmother?"
"That's right, dear. And I'm afraid that until you let me do my job, you'll have absolutely nothing to wear." As she spoke, chimes reverberated through the air and shimmering sparkles fluttered to the ground.
Dawn sighed and looked down at the fairy dust littering the floor. "Do you have any idea how long it's going to take me to vacuum that out of the carpet?" She thought for a moment more and then smiled. "Let's do it."
There was the sound of frantic thumping against the walls.
Dawn looked back up. "Knock it off, Hedwig. I know what I'm doing."
The pounding increased.
"How about for the next month every morning when I leave for school I put on the Jewel CD so you can listen to
Intuition all day?"
There was immediate silence.
"I knew you'd see it my way." Dawn smiled and turned back to her Fairy Godmother. "This Prince Charming thing - tell me more."
"Dawn! If I have to come up there, I'll drag you down by your hair!" Buffy took a deep breath. "Do you hear me? I'm counting to three…"
"I believe we can safely assume that she hears you." Giles popped two aspirins in his mouth and washed them down with half a glass of water. "People in Saskatchewan can hear you."
"She does sound kinda' like a moose." Dawn glided into the room dressed in a ball gown made of lilac-colored satin and decorated with delicate bits of lace and ribbon. Diamond pins glittered in her upswept hair.
Buffy stared at her, mouth open.
Giles studied the teenager. "Don't tell me, let me guess. Your Fairy Godmother appeared and now you're dressed to go to the ball."
Dawn grinned and stuck her foot out from under the edge of the dress. It was encased in a glass slipper with a golden heel that was covered in diamond chips. "Isn't it cool? I just wish I'd gotten the singing mice, too."
"In the original story, the stepsisters cut off their toes in an effort to be able to wear the slipper." His expression suggested that vocalizing rodents were only slightly more acceptable than mutilation.
Dawn jerked her foot back under her dress. "You're making that up."
"Absolutely, not," Giles said, warming to the subject. "It's only the more modern versions of the stories which perpetuate the 'happily ever after' myth and …."
A shrill whistle interrupted the lecture.
When she had their attention, Buffy pointed to herself, and then Giles before making a walking motion with her fingers. "Come on Giles, the point's been made.
But remember the children, alone and afraid. These kids are out of place and time and if we don't find them I'll continue to rhyme!"
"Sorry. You're quite right. First things first." Giles turned back to Dawn. "If Hansel and Gretel should return, keep them here until we get back."
"What do you expect me to do?" Dawn folded her arms. "Lock them in the closet?"
"You're a resourceful young lady. I'm sure you'll think of something." As Giles opened the door for Buffy, he glanced back over his shoulder. "By the way, Dawn, you look quite lovely."
She flashed him a searching glance to see if he was putting her on. Apparently satisfied with what she saw, her
face lit up with a happy smile. "Thanks."
"Are we there yet?"
Xander gritted his teeth and looked in the rearview mirror at the passenger in the backseat. Blonde curls, red-cape, woven basket, and so damned whiny he was beginning to understand why the wolf wanted to gobble her up. It was the only way to make her stop complaining.
"You said it would only take a minute. It's already been a lot longer than a minute. I don't see why you would say a minute when that's not what you mean."
Xander tuned out the continuing chatter and glanced over at Willow. "If you spot the big, bad, wolf let me know so I can slow down and toss her out."
She tried not to laugh but couldn't stop the giggle that escaped. "I bet Grandma moved to that cottage deep in the woods just to get away from her." Her smile faded. "What are we going to do if we can't find out what's causing this? Do you have any idea how evil some fairy tales characters are?"
"What is it about us and catastrophes?" Xander wondered aloud. "It's like there's a big, flashing sign at the top of the house pointing us out to the bad guys."
"It's not just us," Willow said after a moment. She glanced at the blonde in the backseat who was staring sulkily out the window before returning her attention to Xander. "Everyone at the Coven is having trouble with their magick. Some things work and some don't and even Elspeth can't explain why."
"Giles didn't seem to have any trouble putting the whammy on those garden gnomes."
"That's another thing," Willow said. "Since when did Giles get to be Mr. Magick? Back in Sunnydale, he never did anything like that. So why is he doing it now?"
"I dunno." Xander turned the corner and started down the next street. "Why don't you ask him?"
"I can't do that."
Willow folded her arms. "You can't just ask someone how powerful they are. It's rude."
"Did you know that Giles' dad got killed when the Council blew up?" Xander asked, unexpectedly changing the subject.
Willow's eyes widened. "No. He never said a word about his family. "
"We didn't ask," Xander reminded her. "All those years he spent in Sunnydale and we never even bothered to ask."
Willow blinked back tears. "Did you have some reason for pointing out just how selfish, self-absorbed and self-centered we all are or is it just a general information sort of thing?"
"All I'm sayin' is that there's a lot of stuff about Giles that we don't know."
"Like why he can do magick, but doesn't."
"Among other things." Xander slowed down as they cruised along beside Twin Pines Park.
"Stop!" Willow screamed suddenly.
Xander slammed on the brakes, ignoring the outraged screech from the backseat. "What? Do you see them?"
"Not exactly." Willow pointed to sidewalk where a line of very short people was trudging along single file. "Think we've got room for seven dwarfs?"
Giles glanced at Buffy who was staring intently out the side window of the car. They had driven down street after street and were currently searching a residential area filled with well-preserved bungalows and Victorian cottages. "We'll find them."
"We'll also find a way make you stop rhyming." He hoped that he was telling the truth. He hadn't told her yet that neither Elspeth nor Deborah had ever heard of this kind of spell or curse and had no idea how to reverse the effect.
There was a heavy silence before Buffy nodded, much more slowly this time.
There was a pause and Buffy got the impression that Giles was considering what he should say next. But instead of speaking, he surprised her by reaching out his hand. She hesitated just for a moment before returning the gesture and linking her fingers through his.
A tingle went across her palm and up her arm. She peeked at Giles, who was concentrating on the street. She was still wondering about how to ask if he was experiencing the same
sensation when she spotted Hansel and Gretel.
"Giles, there they are! They didn't get very far."
Before the car came to a full stop, Buffy threw open the door and bolted across the street. She skidded to a halt and then dropped to her knees in front of the children. "All you all right? Are you okay? Why did you ever run away?"
Gretel moved closer to Hansel. "The lady told us about the wicked witch who lives in the pretty house and feeds children candy and cakes so she can fatten them up and eat them."
"She's not going to cook Gretel!" Hansel put his arm around his sister. "We're not going to let anyone fatten us up, no matter how nice they pretend to be!"
"No one is allowed to cook anyone else, " Giles said, joining the group.
Hansel and Gretel exchanged a look.
"If you will come back to the house with us, I give you my word that you will be quite safe," Giles promised as Buffy stood up and held out her hands.
After a few moments of silent communication, the children reached out and clasped her hands. Buffy turned to Giles with a sunny smile. "Okay let's go back to the house and see if Dawn's found her singing mouse."
Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. The headache that had almost gone away had returned full force. He looked around the living room. "There are twelve of them?"
Willow nodded as she counted them off on her fingers. "Hansel, Gretel, Red Riding Hood, Fairy Godmother, Rapunzel - we found her in the mall parking lot - and seven dwarfs. Who, by the way, are not named Dopey, Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sneezy, Sleepy and Grumpy and get kind of testy if you call them that." She turned to glare at a dwarf on the other side of the room. "Especially that one. He bites."
Giles put his glasses back on and looked around the room. "Where is Xander? Is he still out searching?"
Dawn shook her head and the overhead lights glittered off the diamond pins in her hair. "It's supposed to rain tonight so he went out to the workshop to put away the lumber he picked up this morning."
"Giles!" Xander hurried into the room carrying a large box that he sat down in front of the Watcher. "I found these hidden behind some shelves."
Giles reached into the box and pulled out a book. "Grimm's Fairy
Dawn picked up a second book. "This one is Poems, Songs and Rhymes for
"I've got A Garden of Classic Verse," Willow said. She flipped open the cover.
"Don't!" Giles grabbed the book from her hand. "Don't open any of them!"
"Giles, its just a child's book. Why can't Willow have a look?"
"They're story books."
Dawn looked around the group who were all staring at Giles with identical blank expressions. "Okay, since you guys won't say it I will." She turned to Giles. "Well, duh!"
He glared at the teen. "I meant, these are books that tell stories. Long before modern parents had televisions and VCR's to offer as amusement, demons used these enchanted books as a way to entertain their children."
"How does it work?" Willow asked.
"You open the book to a particular fairy tale or poem and the characters appear and act out the story. Close the book and the characters disappear."
"So what happened?" Xander asked. "The books are shut. Shouldn't they be gone?"
Willow snapped her fingers. "Whatever is making the magick go all wonky must be interfering with them going back."
"Can you fix it?" Dawn asked, glancing at her sister who was anxiously waiting for the answer.
"I believe so." He frowned for a moment at the books, thinking of the magicks needed. "Step back please, just in case something goes wrong."
The protests came in a jumbled rush: "Wrong? What might go wrong? G-man, you need to make sure you make the right characters disappear!" "Giles, are you sure you should be doing the magick? I mean none of my spells are working right. Is this safe?" "Giles, don't do anything that would hurt them." "Telling us to step back, implies that you
clearly lack, a certain level of confidence, in your analysis of the evidence.
Or to put it in an simple way, Giles, are you sure you'll be okay?"
"Quiet please! This is just a variation of the casting that made the beanstalk disappear. Everything should be fine if you will only allow me to concentrate." He glared at them until they all nodded. Buffy continued to stare defiantly before slowly adding her
He stacked the books between his hands and began to chant. As a blue glow spread along the outline of the books, one-by-one the characters in the room faded and disappeared. He kept the glow up a moment longer and they all felt a small breeze rush through the room, ruffling their hair. When he was finished, he turned to Buffy. "Say something."
"Something." Buffy started to grin. "It worked. I'm not rhyming. This is great! I can say anything I want and it doesn't rhyme!" The
news was greeted with happy grins and a quick applause by
Willow pointed to the books he was holding. "What are you going to do with those?"
Giles tucked them under his arm. "I believe the Coven will be the best place for them. Elspeth and the others will look after them until we can find a way to make sure it doesn't happen again."
"I wonder how that box ended up in the workshop?" Buffy asked.
"Sometimes the kids in the neighborhood like to play out there because they think Xander looks like a pirate," Willow said. "Maybe one of them left it." She began to frown. "Unless you think we have a demon family living in the bushes or something."
"Uh, guys, we could figure this out later?" Everyone looked at Xander who had his eye shut. "'Cause more important right now is," he pointed over his shoulder, "nearly naked Dawn at 12 o'clock high."
Buffy whirled around and stared at her sister who was standing by the fireplace wearing nothing but panties and a bra. "Hey, isn't that the new stuff I bought at Victoria's Secret last week?" She took a step toward Dawn who laughed and sprinted toward the staircase. Buffy took off after her. "You are going to be so sorry when I catch you!
Giles watched the pair with an indulgent smile. Things were back to normal.
Maybe their streak of bad luck in Whispering Pines was at last coming to an end and they could all finally live happily ever after.
"Edna, I'm home." Joe Thomason shut the front door with his elbow and started down the hall. "I stopped by the store and picked up the things you said you needed to finish the cupcakes for your trip to school tomorrow."
There was silence.
"Edna?" He hurried toward the kitchen. "Where are you? Something's burning!'
As he turned the corner, he could see the kitchen table and two plates piled high with cupcakes, cookies and candy. He put the groceries on the counter and whirled around to turn off the oven.
He froze in horror. "Oh, my god. EDNA!"