"Eponine," said Javert, "Could I talk to you for a moment?"
Eponine turned from the parlor window, where she had been watching Gavroche and Azelma chasing one another around the snowy garden below. "What about?" she asked.
"Have a seat," said Javert. "It concerns you and Azelma, and Gavroche especially. We've been together nearly a fortnight now."
Eponine nodded. "I know, Inspector. Now that Gavroche is back on his feet I suppose it's about time for us to go."
"Where would you go?" asked Javert.
Eponine shrugged. "Azelma and I will probably go back home," she said, "If my father will let us."
"Gavroche will probably end up back on the street."
"Suppose," said Javert, "He didn't have to."
Eponine tilted her head to one side. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"The truth is," said Javert, "I find I've grown rather fond of the little rascal. After bringing him back from death's door, to throw him back out on the street––it doesn't seem right. The past few days have been the happiest I've known in a very long time. Do you think he would stay with me?"
Eponine glanced toward the window. Gavroche was throwing snowballs at Azelma, the ends of a red scarf Javert had given him trailing behind him like a banner as he ran across the yard. Eponine shook her head. "I don't know," she said. "Gavroche is like a wild bird. No one can bind his wings or silence his song. He can't stand to be in a cage."
"What if it wasn't a cage?" said Javert slowly, "What if instead it was a nest to come home to?"
Eponine looked back at him, a slight smile crossing her face. "I think he could live with that."
Before Javert could say anything else, Azelma and Gavroche burst into the room, rosy-cheeked and breathless from their winter frolic. "It's snowing!" Gavroche announced. "Mme. Pascal says it's the first night of Carnival," said Azelma, "Can we go, Inspector?"
Javert looked from her eager eyes to Gavroche's glowing face. "May we, please, Javert?" asked Eponine. Javert smiled. "We'll go directly after supper."
The streets of Paris were ablaze with light for Carnival time. Vendor's carts lined the streets, selling all kinds of treats and trinkets. Street performers in colorful costumes danced through the squares and filled the air with music. Ordinarily Javert would have preferred to spend Carnival at home by the fire in peace and solitude, but as he watched Azelma and Eponine gaze in wonder at the sights around them, and Gavroche race eagerly ahead, he was glad he had brought them.
Before Javert realized it, all three had disappeared into the crowds. He began to search frantically for them, and finally found Eponine and Azelma standing in front of a platform where a magician was giving a performance. Gavroche was onstage next to him, pulling out a card from the fanned out deck the magician was holding. "Now," said the magician, "Show your card to the good mesdames and messieurs, but do not show it to me." He turned his head over his shoulder and closed his eyes; Gavroche held up the three of hearts. "Now put it back," said the magician. He shuffled the cards, picked up the top one, and held it up for the audience to see. "Is this your card?"
"Yes!" said Gavroche. The audience applauded. The magician shook Gavroche's hand, and the boy hopped off the stage.
"Now, for my next trick," said the magician, putting his hand in his pocket, "I shall need…Where is the magic handkerchief?"
Eponine turned to Gavroche. "Gavroche, give it back!" she said. Gavroche pulled the handkerchief out of his sleeve and sheepishly handed it back to the magician. The magician smiled. "Monsieur, it seems, is a better magician than I am." He trailed the handkerchief over his sleeve, snapped his fingers, and pulled a red rose out of his cuff. "For you, Mademoiselle," he said, handing the rose to Eponine, She took it, blushing.
As the magician finished up his act, Javert made his way toward the runaway siblings. "Pastries, anyone?" he asked, holding out a sticky paper bundle. As they walked along munching pains au chocolat, someone called Gavroche's name. The boy turned; his face lit up. "Grantaire!" he yelled. He ran over to the young man and threw his arms around him. "Good to see you again, my friend," said Grantaire.
Eponine touched Javert's arm. "Inspector," she said, "Thank you."
"For taking us in. For caring for Gavroche. For letting us stay with you."
"Eponine, you don't have to leave."
"Yes, I do," she said quietly, "But I can't speak for the others."
Javert watched her walk away until he lost her in the crowd of people. He turned around. Gavroche was nowhere in sight. Neither was Azelma. "Gavroche?" he called, "Azelma? Where are you?" He walked quickly, scanning the crowds. He could not say how long he spent wandering through the winding streets, looking for any sign of them, but at last he gave up. Shoulders slumped, he trudged homeward. The gate creaked on its hinges as he pushed it open. In the snow beside the walkway, something caught his eye. A slim finger had etched a single word in the snow: Merci. Underneath was a small handprint. Javert crouched down and covered the handprint with his own hand. A smile tugged the corner of his lips. He drew the back of his hand across his eyes, straightened up, and went inside. He scraped the snow from his boots, hung up his coat and hat, and sat down in the armchair by the parlor fire.
Mme. Pascal came in. "Where are the children?" she asked.
"Gone? Aren't you going to look for them?"
"I have. If they wanted to be found, I would have found them."
He propped his chin on the back of his hand and stared into the fire. "No doubt our paths will cross again," he said.
The end! But it's not really the end. Expect to see a sequel sometime in January. Happy Halloween to those who celebrate Halloween! To those who don't, happy All Saints' Day! To those who celebrate neither, happy unbirthday!