October 31, 1999

306 Years Later

Dani Dennison stood outside the imposing red brick edifice of Jacob Bailey High School and tried to calm the growing fears gnawing at her from within. She had thought herself grown enough, mature enough, to avoid feeling as nervous as she was about something that seemed so trivial. She was pretty after all, and smart. So why did the very thought of asking Brad Williams to the Halloween Dance make her practically shiver? Okay, so he was a junior, two years older than she. So he was one of the most popular guys at school, and drop dead gorgeous to boot. What difference should all that make?

"Stop it," she hissed to herself. "You can do this. Just be calm. Calm and cool."

"You're not really going to ask him to the dance, are you?" asked the young man standing beside her. He had short, unruly brown hair and a look of disgust on his face.

"Are you kidding, Billy?" Dani replied.

"What do you see in him, anyway?"

"You mean besides his smile and his tan and his muscles, and…"

"All right, all right! Enough!" Billy held up his hands and shook his head in a gesture of surrender. Dani turned and glared at him.

"You're just jealous, Billy!"

"No I'm not!" he lied. "It's just… Dani, you don't know about guys like him…" For as long as he could remember, Billy Preston had secretly had a crush on Dani. They had been friends ever since she and her family had first moved to Salem. The only problem was, she had never seen him as anything more than a friend. Despite his feelings for her though, and the pain they sometimes caused him, he never failed to support her.

"You sure he's the one you want to ask?" Billy asked again. Dani responded by turning her back on Billy and walking away. Taking a deep breath, she slowly walked over to where Brad and his friends, football players all, were standing around a new sports car talking.

"Brad?" she called out. Brad immediately turned to see who was calling his name, interrupting his conversation with his friends. When he saw Dani walking towards him, he smiled.

"Dani," he replied, grinning. "What's up?"

"N-not much," she stammered. "A-are you, um… going to the dance tonight?" Brad grinned again.

"Maybe," he replied, turning to look at his friends with a wolfish grin, "If I've got the right person to go with me."

"Would you… go with me?" Dani asked shyly. Brad took a slow step towards her and gently laid his hands on her shoulders.

"That'd be great," he said softly, looking into her eyes. Dani gulped, struggling to force herself to speak.

"Really?" she squeaked, her voice coming out as little more than a high-pitched croak. Off to the side, she could hear Brad's friends snicker.

"What time should I pick you up tonight?" Brad asked, apparently ignoring her obvious nervousness.

"Eight o'clock," Dani managed. "17 Heritage Drive."

"Great," Brad replied, smiling again. "I'll see you then."

Ten minutes later, when her older brother Max and his fiancée arrived to pick her up, Dani was still on cloud nine. She could hardly believe it had all been so easy… and he'd actually said yes!

"Hey, Dani," Max greeted her as she climbed into the back seat of his range rover. "How was school?"

"Fine," she replied distractedly. Allison grinned from the passenger seat.

"Uh huh," she replied. "So who is he?"

"He?" Max repeated, frowning.

"Huh?" Dani said, suddenly startled from her daydream. "Oh, um… just a… guy from school."

"Must be some guy," Allison teased.

"Is he ever," Dani sighed, grinning delightedly. "He's taking me to the dance tonight."

"You've got a date?" Max asked, his tone doubtful.

"Come on, Max," Allison replied. "Leave her alone. Dani's not a little girl anymore."

"Yeah, Max," Dani added defiantly. "I'm fifteen years old. I can go on a date if I want to." Max sighed and sank into his seat.

"I know," he responded. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just not used to my little sister doing all this stuff yet."

"Relax, Max," Dani said, reaching out to pat her brother's shoulder. "We're just going to the dance." She grinned.

"…and I promise I won't marry him on the first date," she laughed. Max couldn't help but grin back.

"Just remember, he has to get by me first," he said, "Big brother's privilege." Dani laughed again.

"Just drive, jerk-face."

The rest of the day seemed to take an eternity to pass, at least to Dani, but finally night fell. After a brief supper, she rushed upstairs to her room and quickly put on her costume. She was, of course, going as a witch, though her costume this year looked very little like the one she once wore as a little girl. Among other things, it was a good deal shorter. She spent an extra twenty minutes making sure everything looked just right, determined to be just perfect for her date with Brad. Once she felt ready, she carefully tiptoed downstairs.

As she expected, her parents were busy carving a jack-o-lantern on the kitchen table, and making quite a mess of it.

"No, no, honey, you have to make the mouth wider," she heard her father call out, "and the eyes narrower."

"Keep it up, and I'll make your eyes narrower," her mother muttered.

"Dad, you're never gonna make the perfect jack-o-lantern," Dani quipped. At the sound of her voice, both her parents stopped what they were doing and turned around. Her father's jaw dropped.

"Dani?!" he gaped.

"You like my costume?" she asked, grinning.

"Um… it's uh, great honey," her father stammered, "but isn't it a little… short?" Dani tried not to laugh.

"Not for me it isn't," she replied with a smile.

"Honey, you're not supposed to give your date a heart attack," her mother chuckled, gently kissing her on the cheek. "Besides, I don't think your father's quite ready for teenage Dani yet." She looked knowingly at her husband and smiled. At that moment the front doorbell rang.

"I'll get it," Mrs. Dennison said. She picked up a bowl of candy beside the door as she did so, expecting a horde of hungry trick-or-treaters. Instead, she was greeted by her son Max and his fiancée Allison, dressed as a couple from Colonial America.

"Hey you two," Mr. Dennison called out as he walked to greet them. "About time you two lovebirds got here."

"Better late than never," Max joked. "Besides, we had to see Dani before the big date."

"It's just a dance, Max," Dani said, trying to ignore the bright shade of pink she was turning. Just then, the doorbell rang again. Turning, she saw Brad Williams standing on the doorstep, a small bouquet of flowers in his hand. He was wearing a dark suit and a flowing black cape, apparently trying to look like some kind of dashing vampire.

"Am I too early?" he asked quietly.

"No, not at all," Mrs. Dennison replied. She turned to face her daughter.

"Mom, dad, guys… this is Brad," Dani introduced him, her voice sounding slightly nervous. Brad took a step forward and extended his hand warmly.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. & Mrs. Dennison."

"Good to meet you, Brad," Mr. Dennison replied, shaking Brad's hand.

"So that's him, huh?" Max said quietly.

"Yeah," Dani replied dreamily. Max stifled a laugh.

"What?" Dani asked, frowning.

"Nothing, nothing," her brother replied, shaking his head and grinning. "Just be careful, sis." He gave his sister a gentle hug goodbye, then stepped back to let his mother and Allison do the same.

"Have a good time, honey," Mrs. Dennison said. She kissed Dani gently on the cheek and then leaned in close, whispering in her ear.

"Behave," she whispered. Dani giggled.

"Don't worry, mom, I'll be a good girl," she said with a smile.

"Be back by eleven," her father called out.

"I'll take good care of her, Mr. Dennison," Brad said. "I'll have her back on time, you have my word."

"Good," Mr. Dennison said, not bothering to hide the firmness in his voice. "You two have a good time then." Brad grinned.

"We will."

Had the Dennisons not been so preoccupied with their Halloween festivities, they might have heard an odd sound, a soft rattling noise, coming from the upper floor of their house. It was quiet, and slightly subdued, but it was there nonetheless… and it was coming from Dani's room.

It had once been her older brother Max's room, but it became hers when he moved out to attend Salem University. The walls were now covered with posters of teenage boys, and the floor was all but concealed by piles of dirty clothes and other teenage castoffs. In fact, it looked exactly as one would expect a teenage girl's room to look… except for one thing.

High up on a shelf inside Dani's closet, covered by a plain white sheet, was a small metal strongbox, locked firmly with a padlock. Inside was something both she and her brother had tried very hard to forget: the evil spellbook of Winifred Sanderson.

Six years ago, the three Sanderson Sisters had been brought back to life by her older brother Max, when he unknowingly lit the Black Flame Candle. Desperate to prolong their lives, they sought to steal the lives of the children of Salem. Dani, Max and Allison had nearly become victims of the Sisters themselves. When all was said and done, the three of them managed defeated the witches, and the evil sisters crumbled to dust in the light of the rising sun. Only the spellbook remained.

Knowing that they couldn't allow its powers to fall into the wrong hands, Dani and Max had reluctantly taken it back to their house and hidden it there. Max appointed himself the book's guardian until he left for college, and then the duty passed to Dani. It had been years since either of them had even looked at it, though. They had simply locked it away and went on with their lives.

Now, the strongbox suddenly began to rattle and shake, as though something was trapped inside and trying desperately to escape. Then, with a burst of brilliant blue-white light, the small steel box burst apart, smashing open the doors of Dani's closet. The book itself landed on the ground and flew open, releasing a column of swirling energy that tore through Dani's room like a tornado. The storm was mercifully brief, thankfully, and when the light had faded away, the dark figure of a man had materialized on the floor nearby.

"Uhhh…" the man groaned softly, slowly getting to his feet. He wore an old Puritan outfit, completely black, which was torn and singed here and there. His hat had fallen off, revealing unruly white hair. His skin was pale and ashen, standing in stark contrast to his piercing icy blue eyes. Swirling his cape about himself, the strange-looking man slowly began to examine his surroundings.

"Where… where am I?" he whispered to himself. "The last thing I remember is… the spell…" Then his eyes widened.

"…the spell! I was casting it, when that fool Jedediah Binx did interfere!" He strode over to the one window in the room and threw open its curtains, peering down into the street below.

"Where can I be? What didst the fool do to me?!" Staring out the window, Balthazar struggled to recognize his surroundings.

Surely I must still be in Salem, he thought to himself. Did the spell work?

Then he noticed the spellbook, lying discarded on the floor nearby. Eyes narrowing, he knelt down and picked it up. As if reacting to his touch, the peculiar eye on the cover of the book flickered open.

"Book!" Balthazar hissed at it. "Show me where I am! Show me what has become of my sisters!!" In response, the book flew open to reveal a particular passage. Incredibly, an image began to form in the air just above the pages of the book. As he watched, it began to show Balthazar how Winifred's fateful curse had been fulfilled, and how she and her sisters had been reborn. It then showed them struggling to retrieve the spellbook from three children, who had apparently stolen it from them. The image abruptly flickered, changing to show an old and very familiar looking, cemetery.

"What…?" Balthazar wondered aloud. As he continued to watch, he saw his three sisters descend into the cemetery on their brooms – or what passed for their brooms at that moment – chasing after the three children he had seen before. They seemed to be trying to get to the youngest of the three, a blonde-haired girl, whom the other two were protecting. Winifred nearly succeeded, and Balthazar watched as his sister attempted to force the girl to drink from a faintly glowing potion bottle. He nodded in understanding.

The potion, of course; they would have needed to steal the lives of children to survive…

The young girl fought back, and Winifred unexpectedly dropped the potion bottle. A teenage boy standing on the ground below quickly grabbed the bottle. To save the young girl – his sister – he then did the unthinkable: he drank the potion himself, downing it in a single swallow. Winifred angrily cursed him, and wasted no time in throwing the girl to the ground and grabbing her brother instead. As the boy's life-force began to well up out of him, in the form of a faintly glowing mist, Winifred tried to greedily drink it in. She was desperate for it. Unfortunately for her, the boy fought back even harder than sister had.

Suddenly, without warning, Winnie lost her grip on her broom, and both she and the boy fell to the ground with a shout. Quickly getting to her feet again, Winnie grabbed the boy by the collar of his shirt and hauled him off his feet, holding him up directly in front of her. She tried again to feed upon him, but it was too late. Without realizing it, she had set foot upon hallowed ground, and she paid the price. With a final shriek, she became a lifeless stone statue. Moments later, the morning sun rose full and glowing behind her, and Mary & Sarah crumbled to dust in its light. Winifred's herself exploded into millions of tiny, luminescent fragments. The three children stood nearby, watching… and cheered.

With a roar of anguish, Balthazar slammed the book shut, and the incredible image vanished without a trace.

"Their curse worked!" he shouted angrily. "They were reborn… only to be destroyed again by a pack of wretched children!" His eyes flashed with barely contained fury.

"The spell I cast was to have brought me to the place of my beloved Sisters' rebirth," he whispered to himself. "Somehow it went wrong… and I have arrived too late! They have been taken from me again… and by nothing more than insipid children!!" Clutching the book against his chest, he raised his face to the heavens.

"I vow to you, my sisters, that I shall avenge you! These children shall be punished for their wickedness… so swears Lord Balthazar Sanderson!!" He took a step back, swirled his cape around himself once again… and vanished, leaving only a wisp of curling smoke behind.

The campus of Jacob Bailey High School was festooned with orange and black streamers and countless strings of twinkling orange lights. Pulled strands of cotton made faux cobwebs on anything that would stand still. At the entrance to the school gymnasium, two skeleton statues grimly welcomed the flood of teenagers who had come to dance and party the night away.

Dani and Brad were among them, and they walked inside hand-in-hand. Dani was all smiles.

"I can't believe we're here, oh this is so cool!" Dani giggled. Brad only smiled. Across the room she saw a group of friends and she hurried to greet them, pulling Brad along behind her.

"Nikki! Alexandra!" she called out. Two girls Dani's age, one dressed as a pixie and one as a vampire, turned at the sound of her voice. Seeing Dani standing there with Brad, they broke into wide grins and rushed over to embrace their friend.

"You made it!" Nikki exclaimed.

"And with a hunk," Alexandra whispered into Dani's ear. She grinned and they both giggled.

"Who are you guys here with?" Dani asked her friends.

"I'm here with me, myself and I," Alexandra replied sarcastically. "Nikki's got a date, though… wherever he went." Nikki elbowed her playfully.

"Justin went to go get us some punch," Nikki replied, blushing. "He'll be back in a minute." Brad gently brushed his fingers against Dani's shoulder and she jumped, startled.

"Let's go dance," he said softly. Dani smiled.

"Okay," she said. She turned back to her friends as Brad led her out onto the dance floor.

"See you guys in a bit," she said with a grin. Then Brad pulled her to him, and whatever other thoughts she might have had quickly fled from her mind.

Standing by himself in a corner of the gym, Billy Preston watched Dani & Brad dance. He wasn't really sure why he had come to the dance at all; he certainly didn't have a date, and watching Dani on a date with someone else wasn't his idea of fun. Still, he hadn't been able to just let Dani go off with a guy like Brad alone. He felt kind of stupid, standing here and spying on her, and he knew she'd be furious if she caught him, but he didn't care. Whatever it took, he was going to be here for his best friend in case she needed him… no matter what.