AN: Hey looky, a new chapter! Wow, I actually wrote a new chapter! Anyway, thanks to all who reviewed!

"Second Chances"

By Christy

Chapter 17

"I don't understand it," Esmeralda said after the three were back in Notre Dame.

"What's not to understand?" Phoebus said glumly, vaguely fingering one of Quasimodo's figures. "She's a criminal. Whether she's related to me or not, that's what she is."

"Yes, but it doesn't make sense," Esmeralda argued. "Why would the minister suddenly take such an interest in a crime committed ten years ago? And why wouldn't he take us away too?" Her stare shifted from Quasimodo to Phoebus and back again. "We're the ones he really wants, not her."

"Y-yes . . ." Quasimodo stuttered, ". . . b-but he also knows that his brother died when he came after us."

"What are you saying?" asked Phoebus.

Quasimodo gulped. "W-well . . . he may be a drinker, but he's not stupid. The people revere us as heroes – if he were to arrest any of us without an understandable reason, there would be another riot. However . . . the people don't know Minerva."

"So you're suggesting that he thinks he can get to us through her because she's my sister?"

"Maybe," said Quasimodo, his voice beginning to falter as he spoke. "H-he also knows how we took the law into our own hands before. Maybe he's hoping we'll do it again." He gulped again. "And if we do, he'll have a valid reason to arrest us."

Esmeralda and Phoebus were silent for several moments, the weight of Quasimodo's words pressing down on all three of them. Even Djali appeared tense as he lay by Esmeralda's feet.

"So . . . he wants us to try to rescue her," Esmeralda finally said. "She's bait for us."

It took every bit of Quasimodo's willpower to keep himself from shuddering as his own words raced through his mind. How he wished that his suspicions didn't make sense. How he longed to have a chance to bring Minerva back to safety without the minister expecting it.

"But if that's so," said Phoebus, "what will happen to her if we don't try to save her?"

"You know the penalty for murder as well as I do," said Esmeralda. "Death. If we don't try to save her, he has no reason to keep her alive."

Quasimodo felt like he was about to vomit. The unwelcome image of Minerva dangling from a hangman's noose pushed itself into his head, refusing to leave, as vivid as if it were already occurring. His body began shaking, his mouth longing to scream out as he had when Esmeralda was about to be burned.

"Quasimodo?" Esmeralda said in a worried voice. "Are you all right?"

He couldn't answer her, couldn't even stand to look at her or Phoebus. Anything he said about what he was thinking of doing would worry them. They would insist he change his mind or insist that they join him, but he wouldn't allow either. He could never, ever put them in more danger.

"Yes . . ." he forced himself to say in a tiny voice that was almost a whisper, ". . . I'm fine." He looked his friends in the eye. "Why don't you go home? We can talk about this some more tomorrow morning."

He didn't hear how they responded – so busy was his mind, already thinking, already planning, already deciding that by the time morning came, there would be no need for discussion because Minerva would already be saved.

. . . .

Even without Claude Frollo, the Palace of Justice was a forbidding place. The stench of executed bodies left to rot filled Quasimodo's nose even before he entered the building. He struggled not to stumble on his uneven legs as she slowly approached the tall, pointed door, where two guards were keeping watch.

"Halt, who goes there?" one guard shouted, raising his long spear.

Quasimodo gulped, concentrating on keeping his voice steady. "I am Quasimodo, bell-ringer of Notre Dame. I have come to see Judge Frollo." It felt odd to be referring to someone else with the name he'd long associated with his old master.

The guards immediately burst into laughter. "You . . ." one of them sputtered, ". . . you actually wish to come in here and see the minister?"

"I have an offer for him," Quasimodo replied, struggling to keep his voice calm.

The guards laughed even harder, echos of the laughter from that Festival of Fools day so long ago, heavy burdens on Quasimodo's ears. He suddenly felt small, helpless, unfit to speak, but the thought of Minerva in danger was enough to make him overcome that.

"The minister will want to see me," he insisted. "I have something he wants. Please, you have to let me in."

"So what are you saying?" asked the first guard, a somewhat threatening manner beginning to overcome his laughter.

Quasimodo took a deep breath. "You both know that the minister wants me and my friends dead. He's wanted that ever since his brother died over a year ago. What do you think he'd say if he found out that I was willing to see him and you turned me away?"

Now there was something like fear in the guards' eyes. "This is a trap, isn't it?" said the second guard.

"No," said Quasimodo, trying to make his voice as sincere as possible.

"And do you expect us to believe that?" said the first guard. "We knew perfectly well what you're capable of." His hand gripped the handle of his sword, as if expecting Quasimodo to spring out and attack them both with his phenomenal strength.

Quasimodo sighed. "My friends are not with me and I am unarmed. If you don't believe me, you may search me for weapons."

The second soldier moved forward to do just that, but the first soldier, grabbed his comrade's shoulder. "Careful," he said. "Remember, a man like him doesn't need weapons." With that, the second soldier seemed to change his mind and backed as far away from Quasimodo as he was able.

Quasimodo sighed again. "If it makes you feel better, you may handcuff me." He stuck out his hands, stretching out his wrists.

The first guard made a move to chain up Quasimodo's hands, but the second guard still held back.

"He broke a ton of chains once," the second guard whispered. "Remember that? His entire body chained up, and he broke them."

"Well then I guess you'll just have to accept my word," said Quasimodo.

The soldiers looked at each other for a long, long moment. Then, without saying another word, they each grabbed one of Quasimodo's arms and led him into the Palace.

Quasimodo gulped. It had been months since he had seen the Minister of Justice, and now he was being led into Jehan Frollo's very quarters. He felt himself beginning to sweat, but unsure of the exact reason why. Was it fear for himself or fear for Minerva? Or perhaps a mixture of both?

The minister was at his desk, a wine bottle resting next to his arm. He was digging his fingers into his forehead, his face scrunched up as if he hadn't slept in days. Quasimodo felt his eyes widen at the sight. Was this pathetic figure really the man who held so much power?

"Minister Frollo," the soldier on Quasimodo's left said, "the bell-ringer of Notre Dame has surrendered to us."

The judge didn't look up. "Why?" he said.

"I don't know," said the guard. "He said he wants to speak with you."

The judge still didn't look up. "This is some sort of trap, isn't it? It has something to do with the woman who was arrested tonight, doesn't it?"

"It's not a trap," Quasimodo spoke up. "But it does have something to do with her."

He finally looked up, showing the bell-ringer his reddened eyes. "What interest do you have in her."

"You know perfectly well that she is my friend's sister." Quasimodo concentrated on keeping his expression cold and intimidating. "You know that is why you arrested her."

Jehan suddenly slammed his fist on the desk. "I arrested her because she is guilty of murder."

"That is your excuse," Quasimodo calmly replied. "By herself, she means nothing to you personally. You only bothered to arrest her because of her connection to me and my friends.

Jehan let out a long growl that sounded like it had to struggle to get up his throat. "Well, are your friends here with you?"

"No," Quasimodo said, his voice still steady, "and you will not have them. But . . ." He took a deep breath, suppressing the urge to run. ". . . if you let Minerva de Chateaupers' go, you will have me."

The minister lifted an eyebrow, as if suspecting that he was playing a joke. "And . . . why should I agree to that when I could simply arrest you now and have both of you?"

Quasimodo was prepared for that. "If you try to arrest me without letting her go, I will simply fight all your soldiers off. Then after that, the people will come after you for unjustly arresting the city's hero. You know you don't want to suffer your brother's fate." He concentrated on putting weight on his every word. "But if you let her go, I will come to you willingly. You will be safe, your soldiers will be safe, and you will have me. All I require is that you let her go."

Jehan stared at him for a long time, as if trying to figure out whether or not it was some sort of trick. Quasimodo inadvertently held his breath, growing increasingly uncomfortable under the minister's stare. It felt as if Jehan were prying into his very mind, seeking out his private thoughts, searching for his motivations.

Finally a smile began to creep across the minister's face, the sort of smile that reminded Quasimodo of his old master. "All right, bell-ringer," he said. "I'll agree to your deal." He looked up at the guards. "Bring in the young lady we captured tonight. Leave the bell-ringer with me." After the guards left, he looked back at Quasimodo. "Do sit down."

Quasimodo glanced from side to side, more than a little suspicious of the minister asking him to sit down as if he were a guest.

"Sit down," Jehan repeated, a slight harshness in his tone this time.

Quasimodo obeyed, but was still unable to keep his eyes from shifting. There was something not right about this.

"So I set the bitch free, and I have you?" Jehan inquired.

"Don't call her that!" Quasimodo reflexively hissed.

"Ah, I see," said Jehan. "I was wondering why it was you who turned yourself in instead of her brother. I think I'm beginning to see now." He leaned as far forward as he could, as if about to whisper into the bell-ringer's ear. "You have feelings for her, don't you?"

Quasimodo couldn't answer, but even if he could, he wouldn't have had time to, for right at that instant he heard chains clanking. He instantly turned around and flew to his feet, seeing Minerva being dragged through the door by the guards.

"What's this all about?" she was asking in a loud, demanding voice. "What's going on?" Then she saw Quasimodo and her jaw dropped. "Quasi . . . what are you doing here?" Her voice was now softened to a whisper, a fearful tone in it.

Jehan pointed at the woman. "Release her." His pointing finger now turned toward Quasimodo. "And arrest him."

"What?" Minerva shouted.

The soldiers immediately unlocked Minerva's chains without protest. Quasimodo held out his hands in surrender, after which the soldiers shackled his wrists.

"No . . ." Minerva whispered, taken aback beyond comprehension.

Quasimodo twisted his head as best he could to look at her. "You're free, Minerva. Please, take care of yourself . . . and don't come after me."

Minerva couldn't answer, couldn't even watch as Quasimodo was taken to the dungeon where she had just been held. She sank to her knees in disbelief, unable to move even when a soldier kicked at her to get up. Once again, another had taken her place. Once again, someone was going to die to save her life.

Once again, she was alone.