AN: Okay, this is a story I started a LONG time ago, in early 2001, back when HoND was my Number 1 obsession, and nowadays I'm no longer proud of the first few chapters, but the story was well-received when it was first posted on the (now closed) HoND Fan Fic Store and later on my (down for now) HoND website. I've been tempted more than once to just let the story go, but given that I've been working on it on and off for ten years now it only seems right to finish it. I haven't edited the early chapters, much as I may like to, because I work better editing something when I actually have something finished first. Maybe posting it here will help motivate me to actually finish the damn thing. Anyway, I don't own HoND – Disney and Victor Hugo do. And in this fic, that god-awful sequel never happened (I don't accept the sequel as canon anyway). And as I said, most of this fic was written a LONG time ago, so it's not up to my usual standard. I'll probably post one chapter every day or two until I've posted all the work I've done, then . . . I have no idea how frequent updates will be.

"Second Chances"

by EsmeAmelia

Chapter 1

The cold wind whipped in the gypsy woman's hair as she danced. Her billowing skirt whirled around her legs, occasionally revealing two booted feet making patterns in the snow. The flutes and drums played by her comrades enhanced the routine, but she was the prime focus. Her dance seemed to be giving energy to the musicians.

The bonfire behind her drew the attention of the passer-by, offering them warmth from the dusky December air and beckoning them to drop money in the gypsy woman's hat, which was carefully guarded by her little white goat. The music of her tambourine seemed to be shouting to the crowd Come! Celebrate with us! in the language that only tambourines speak.

A good number of people stopped in their tracks to watch the woman dance. None of them could tell what event the gypsies were celebrating, but the dancer's energy told them it must be something very special. They all cheered heartily when she finished her dance, almost as if they could sense the joy behind her smile. She bowed deeply, almost as if she could sense their admiration for her. After a lingering moment, she wrapped a cloth around herself, and disappeared.

The spectators had all seen her do the trick before, so none of them were too surprised, although no one was sure how she did it. Still, they had all seen it enough times so that they didn't talk about it as they went their separate ways. Therefore we will not follow the group of townsfolk, because there is nothing more to say about then that would be relevant to the story.

Of course, we won't follow the gypsy dancer right away either, for you see, the method of that trick is a gypsy secret: we can't reveal it to you! We will simply pick up the story a little later that evening, when the gypsies were gathered around a bonfire listening as their king addressed them.

"Gather 'round everyone!" Clopin began, even though everyone was already gathered around, "We are here to pay tribute to one of our bravest comrades."

He extended his hand to the woman who had been dancing earlier. She giggled slightly, but took his hand and allowed him to lead her to the center of attention.

"As many of you know," Clopin continued, "our esteemed sister La Esmeralda has finished her Biblical studies, and she is going to be baptized into God's kingdom tomorrow."

The gypsies all cheered, though some were still wondering about the wisdom of her decision.

"Ma cherie, Esmeralda," Clopin said, kissing the woman's hand, "we are all offer you our sincerest congratulations."

"And I offer you my sincerest gratitude," said Esmeralda, her green eyes shining in the firelight. She turned to address the crowd. "My friends," she began, "I want to thank each and every one of you for your unyielding support. I realize that some of you think I've made a foolish decision and might even be worried that I'll forget who I really am, but you have all stood by me, both during my religious studies and… tougher times. God bless you all!"

A few giggles were heard as the gypsies remembered the time she was almost burned at the stake for witchcraft.

Esmeralda waited for the laugher to die down, then she said, "I would like to perform my first act as a Christian a little early. Djali?"

Her little goat trotted up to her with hat, chock-full of money, clenched in his teeth. Esmeralda took the hat and patted the animal on the head, and then she handed the hat with excitement to Clopin. "Here," she said, "it's all the money I've earned dancing in the last week. I know you will distribute it to those who need it most."

Clopin's jaw dropped for a few seconds. A few gypsies shifted around uneasily, knowing that giving up your entire week's earnings was a very serious matter. "Are you sure?" Clopin managed to say.

"Yes," Esmeralda said firmly, "God has given a second chance to live, and I want to make as much use of it as I can. Distribute the money well."

For a moment the gypsy king was speechless. The other gypsies held their breath, waiting to hear if he would accept her gift or not.

"Three cheers for out dear sister Esmeralda!" Clopin shouted, holding up the hat with teary eyes.

. . . .

The gypsies celebrated long into the night. There was plenty of music, feasting, and dance, but again, nothing that would relevant to the story. We will pick up the story after the party, when Esmeralda was stopped in the street by an old friend.

"Esmeralda! Wait up!"

Esmeralda turned to find a gypsy woman of about twenty with a long braid of lack hair down to her waist and sharp brown eyes running up to her.

"Melenie!" Esmeralda exclaimed, "What are you doing here? I thought your caravan was traveling to Spain."

"Well yes, we were," said Melenie, "but the snow storm delayed us, and when I heard you were getting baptized I knew I had to be here for that. Didn't you see me in the crowd?"

"No, but then I wasn't looking."

"Well anyway, congratulations!" continued Melenie, "You can bet I'll be at the church tomorrow. I wouldn't miss it for the world!"

"Well I'm sure no one will offer you the world," Esmeralda giggled.

The two friends continued chatting as they made their way down the moonlit street. It started out as an easygoing walk, but after a while Esmeralda suddenly stopped in her tracks. Her keen sense of hearing had detected a presence.

"What is it?" asked Meleine.

Esmeralda inhaled deeply. "Melenie," she whispered, "someone's watching us!"

Melenie stood very still, trying to make out any sounds of danger. In a few she could hear the faint sound of footsteps in the distance. She sniffed the frosty air. Horses!

"Listen!" Esmeralda continued, "Amor clanking!"

Melenie listened again. Sure enough, she could make out the distant clink-clink of someone's amor rattling. It didn't sound like just one person, either. She sniffed again. The sent of horses was getting closer!

"Soldiers!" Esmeralda hissed

"What should we do?" Melenie whispered frantically.

Before Esmeralda could answer, a gruff voice shouted, "Get her! She's the one!"

The women turned to find three soldiers on horseback charging toward them.

"RUN!" shouted Esmeralda.

The two gypsies sprinted off at top speed with the soldiers in close pursuit. The horse's steamy breath blowing on their shoulders, they ducked into an alley in hopes of eluding their pursuers, but to no avail. Soon they found themselves facing the soldiers with their backs against a wall.
One of the guards dismounted his horse to inspect the women. "Which one, your Honor?" he asked

A tall figure on horseback rode up to the gypsies. Esmeralda's eyes grew wide when she recognized the face of the rider wearing the Minister of Justice's uniform. His narrow blue eyes, dark hair with gray streaks, and bushy eyebrows spelled out one individual.

Jehan Frollo.

The minister eyed the women carefully, then stated to the guards "The one on the left."
Immediately his comrades leapt off their horses and drew their swords. Within a second, Esmeralda found her neck surrounded by swordpoints. "You're under arrest, gypsy," a tall soldier said, grabbing her wrist.

Like a pouncing cat, Esmeralda bit the man's hand as hard as she could. He screamed in pain and momentarily let go of her hand, which she used to punch him in the cheekbone.

"Get her!" yelled the soldier, rubbing hid cheek. The other two soldiers each grabbed hold of one of her arms and forced her to her knees. They might have been able to hold her down long enough for the minister to take control -if Melenie hadn't kicked one of them smack in the face and Djali hadn't butted the other one the rear. Esmeralda took the bait and sprinted away past Jehan's horse.

But the judge was ready for her. He reached down and grabbed hold of one her wrists as she darted past him. The guard with injured cheek sneaked up behind her and tackled her to the snowy ground.

"Take her and her little friend away," Jehan ordered.

The guards would have succeeded if only they hadn't waited a spilt second to react. In that little second, Esmeralda's hand slipped into her pocket and came out clenched in a fist.
The soldier with sore cheek grabbed the wrist of her clenched hand and yanked her to her. "You're coming with us, gypsy!" he snarled.

The gypsy woman opened her fist, letting a power-like substance drop to the ground.

KABOOM! A thick cloud of purple smoke rose from the ground, blinding the minister and the soldiers. They had to let go of whatever they were holding on to in order to protect their eyes from the stinging cloud.

When the smoke finally cleared the two gypsy women and their goat were gone. Vanished into thin air. Like they'd never a long moment of stunned silence the soldier with bruised cheek finally got the nerve to address the judge.

"Sir," he asked, "shall we continue the search?"

Jehan took a few moments to answer as he stared at the rays of dawn peeking over the rooftops."Not yet," he finally said.

"But sir, they might have left tracks," the soldier persisted, "if we wait…"

"A Sunday morning is dawning!" the minister said firmly.

None of the guards could argue with that. The new magistrate was firm believer in no persecution on the Lord's day. Unable to pursue the gypsies, the three guards all went their separate ways. However, Jehan lingered in the alley for quite some time. He knew that one day he would see that gypsy again.

And he would prove her guilty.

. . . .

"I think they're gone," Melenie said as she and Esmeralda climbed out of the crate where they'd been hiding.

"Whoa boy," said Esmeralda, "Just what I need on the day I'm supposed to become a Christian."

Melenie, tried to laugh at her remark, but they both knew this was no joke. "Well," she said softly, "that explains why you want to be baptized."

"Melenie, I've been to busy with my studies to pay any attention to who the Minister of Justice is," Esmeralda said firmly, "Besides, you know that wouldn't do any good in this case."

Melenie nodded slowly. They both knew the minister hadn't just been after her because of her heritage. She opened her mouth to offer a word of comfort when the ethereal tone of church bells came soaring over the city, calling the faithful to the Holy Day's prayer.

"Oh my gosh!" Esmeralda exclaimed, "It's almost time!"

Melenie reached over and hugged her friend. "Good luck," she whispered, deciding it was best not to bring up the incident.

"Thank you," Esmeralda whispered back, lightly touching Melenie's cheek. Then she set off for Notre Dame at the highest speed her legs were capable of reaching. In three seconds she was out of sight.

Melenie stared after her for a long time. She couldn't really understand why her friend was doing this, but she would never state her concern, not to her, anyway. Melenie could never be anything but supportive to someone who was almost a sister to her. The events that occurred many months ago ran through her head: the riot Esmeralda caused at the Feast of Fools, the burning of Paris, Esmeralda's near-execution, the raid of Notre Dame… yes, with all Esmeralda had been through she might very well have a good reason to be baptized. Melenie nodded slightly. Yes, she would support her friend in any way she could, even if she didn't agree with her.

"Good luck," she whispered again.

Meanwhile, Esmeralda stood on the steps of Notre Dame with her eyes closed, listening intensely to the bells in hopes of distracting herself from the incident the night before. She breathed deeply, concentrating on the heavenly sound above her, and fiercely trying to brush all thoughts of the soldiers, the new minister, and whatever troubles that might be awaiting her out of her head. She had to think pure thoughts, at least for today.