A/N: Once again, been a while, hey? Anywho, I apologize if I haven't updated this story earlier, but let's just say college is a b**** and I've also been working on my other phanfiction in progress. If you haven't checked it out... well do it. (no, no, I'm not doing self-promotion) I won't be updating it as long as Let It Go isn't finished, since I really want this little jewel (or trash, whatever) to be done so I can focus solely on The Dragons' Song. In the meantime, well, for the Mizzies out there that might be reading, I will publish a Les Mis fic very soon! Let's just say that I think I need to write something else than POTO for a change (though I'm still desperately obsessed with POTO, don't worry (or not)), so maybe in... well, give a week, and maybe you'll see a nice little medieval AU Eponine/Enjolras story come out. (And Cosette. Lots of Cosette. Love that girl.)

Chapter 35

"Why didn't you tell me earlier?"

Raoul shrugged, slightly exasperated. "It's the only time where I can speak to you without anyone else witnessing. And frankly, I didn't know how you would react. I spent the last week preparing myself to admit it all to you like if I was preparing some diplomatic speech for the Emperor of Austria-Hungrary. I had to, anyway. It isn't really easy to admit that your sister has willingly fled away with the Phantom of the Opera and that you helped them, you know."

"It is kind of you that you decided to choose your words carefully," the comte replied, in a sarcastic way Raoul was somehow painfully reminded of Céleste. "And now, what do you think we'll do?"

Raoul remained in some sort of vacant silence for a while.

"Philippe, please… don't tell me you want her with Soliman…"

"Of course not! Who do you think I am? But let's just say I was setting my hopes on her for some alliance… with you marrying some opera singer with a suspicious reputation…"

Philippe had not yet realized that, during that moment where his exasperation had taken control of his usual maintain, he had spoken too much. Raoul was already up on his feet, his figure similar to a lion defending his lioness, the boyishness usually present in his features suddenly all gone and even startling Philippe for a while. For a moment, he had believed to be in front of a younger look-alike of their deceased father. But he quickly gained back his confidence.

"Oh, really, Raoul, do you seriously think that without the whole affair that lead to the Opera house being burned, I would have accepted? Nonsense. I would have tolerated that Christine would have become your mistress, and nothing more. Céleste would have hurled for the sake of virtue and morality, of course, but I wouldn't have cared if that was the only reason. But with the fire, and the way Christine and you clung to each other like the two fools you were, I knew I could now do nothing to forbid you from marrying. My consolation is that she knows how to behave, and that she is rather pleasant. You are lucky that it happened. Now, don't you get mad at me."

Raoul was looking at the ground now. There was only a slight twitch in his lips, coming back then and now sporadically, as if it took everything so he could remain calm.

"Anyway, I've always been the darling child, haven't I? The one you could always agree to every whim, except one. It was definitely out of the question that I keep any sort of contact with a violinist's daughter, especially when she is orphaned…"

"Why are you complaining now? You've succeeded. And now that you've decided to install in Venice with your wife and child, you can do whatever you want."

"And… Céleste?" Raoul dared to ask.

Philippe let out an humorless chuckle. "To this point, I actually think it's better for everyone to believe she's either dead or that she has retired in a convent. Why not the Carmelites!"

Silence installed itself once again.

"You know what?" Raoul finally let out. "Maybe you should get married. Why should it be me? Why should it be Céleste?"

For a moment, the youngest child of the de Chagny family gazed into the eldest's eyes. He regretted immediately everything he had told him during the last hour. He had now seen how tired and even… old Philippe suddenly appeared to him.

Their family was old-fashioned and conservative. And now, Raoul only wished it would all change. He was a wide-eyed idealist to his core. But even him knew it was impossible, for the roots were too deeply plunged into the earth of history and religion for them to revolutionize what seemed to be part of their identity.

"Philippe… I just don't want you to be left alone here all by yourself. But we have to let Céleste go."

He ignored his elder brother's smirk and continued.

"Believe me, I had trouble accepting it all myself. I think I still do. But she is still our sister, isn't she? I can't pretend she never existed. She's the one who helped you to raise me when Mère and Père passed away, remember? She's the one you would turn to when it came to more delicate matters, because you knew you could trust her judgement. Just come with us."

"And Soliman?"

"Oh, for God's sake, send him to Hell!" This time, Philippe could not help but smile upon his little brother's impulsivity. "It's been almost a month since her kidnapping. There is very little hope that we might find her now, at least to society's eyes."

"And what about his threats?"

"We'll be in Italy, Philippe, and far away from France. And the carnival will be just about to start when we'll arrive."

"This looks awfully lot like a forced exile, Raoul, especially that Soliman blackmailed us with revealing our royalist activities. I think the French Revolution was nearly a century ago."

"And I'm not leaving you behind like the old bachelor you are. You'll take bad habits if I let that happen."

Philippe finally laughed for the first time in weeks. "Why not, and let's cross the borders while crying "Hail to Henri, Fifth of his name, King of France and of Navarre, and death to Buonaparte!" We'll never be forgotten, and they'll consider us heroes of the royalist party. That might help one day."

The bell for the mail suddenly rang. Both brothers immediately got up and rushed in the most undignified way to the entrance hall. Raoul ripped off the letters from the valet's hands, muttering a word of excuse and of gratitude before rushing back with Philippe, trailing behind and feeling somehow useless.

"There's something from Céleste," Raoul finally panted.

"Just open it already!"

He quickly obeyed, and skimmed through his sister's tidy handwriting while Philippe was peeking over his little brother's shoulder, and the image, without the context, could have been comical since his attitude did resemble one of a way too curious child.

They both stopped abruptly, holding their breath, and stared at each other.

"So… they're married." Raoul finally said.

Philippe stayed quiet.

"But I saw that one coming anyway," the vicomte continued, ignoring his brother's nasty glare.

"So are we to just go there and welcome… him with open arms?" the comte finally asked, almost expressionless.

"Frankly, I don't know if I'll be able to do that myself. But it was bound to happen a day or another. You know how Céleste is. She has fixed herself on him, and of her own free will. And I think nothing could have made her turn away. Anyway… she knows what she is doing, right? She always did."

Philippe simply nodded with a tired smile. "I believe she does. But trust me, if I have one single doubt about her happiness, I'll be merciless with him."

Raoul sighed. "So will I, Philippe. But I like to believe it'll never happen. Let's just hope I'm not mistaking."

"So, why have you been dragging that costume I had for the New Year Masquerade everywhere?"

Erik smirked. "Well, the Masquerade stopped quite abruptly for both of us. You didn't have much of a chance to wear that dress. You have no idea how much I spent for it."

"Oh, I understand. Especially with that twenty-thousand-franc monthly salary you had."

"Now…" Erik was just about to give an acid remark, before seeing the mischievous glimmer in Céleste's eyes. He gave an exaggerated grin instead. "It would be lovely in the carnival, hmm?"

"Perhaps you could come out with something a bit more original, this time? I mean, all you had was a plain suit. It was disappointing, you know."

"If I had just set my creativity free, dearest, everyone would have recognized me."

"Of course, but of course. Well, expect me to set the bar high for you for this carnival."

"Challenge accepted, my lady. Thou art merciless."

"Well, I'm the Snow Queen, what did you expect? I have a black heart."

"How disappointing of a Christian soul such as you."

"Don't you start lecturing me, Monsieur le Fantôme. I've heard quite a few of the legends surrounding the fearsome Phantom of the Opera. Help me finish unpacking your things instead."


"Because it will keep you busy. For God's sake, you sound like Raoul when he was younger and we would arrive in Perros and he said he was too tired to help me!"

Erik groaned and glanced elsewhere, visibly unpleased with the comparison. However, Céleste's remark was effective, as he finally stretched like some lazy feline, regretting leaving the rays of the sun shining on him, and got up from his chair and starting throwing his shirts messily on the bed, while she sighed and shook her head half in discouragement, half in amusement.

During their honeymoon days, they had examined in the newspaper all the advertisements on houses for sale in Venice, before afterwards wandering around the city to see at first their exterior and, if it had them interested enough, eventually visiting them. They had fixed their choice on one sold with furniture included, which used to belong to a family who had ended up bankrupt… a modest house. Well, the house was modest in Erik's point of view. Céleste said it was just fine for their needs and ranking (though to be frank, Erik had trouble understanding the latter), but despite his unusual life experience, he had assumed that their future home was actually rather impressive according to standards. He wasn't sure, anyway. Erik really wasn't the best judge in such a context, so to say. His only criteria, actually, was all about large windows, allowing in as much light as possible. And also a room which had decent acoustics and would provide as a nice place to play his music. Well, their music, now that Céleste was there.

The mere thought of it was the most pleasant he had experienced in his life.

Anyway, he had plans. That town-house wouldn't remain in that state, and designs were starting to draw themselves in his mind.

The future was hopeful.

But there was still Soliman's shadow above them, and Erik could only hope that they had escaped him for good.

Christine, Raoul and Blanche, along with the Girys and Alexandre, had arrived about half a week after Céleste and Erik had installed in their new home. Philippe hadn't followed them for now, since he was still needed in Paris to arrange some family business before joining them, in fear it would look too suspicious. Soliman, officially, had announced he was to leave Paris, claiming he needed to find some place which wouldn't remind him of the tragic ending of his love. And everyone hoped he would be as far away as possible from Italy.

Of course, Céleste had not delayed to go and visit her brother and sister-in-law. This time, of course, Erik preferred not accompanying her, and she judged it was certainly wise to do so.

The baby had grown quite a bit since the last time Céleste had seen her. Her hair had grown, showing a dirty blonde shade like her father and as curled as her mother's. In the first fifteen minutes of the visit, she spent her time staring at her tiny fists and, for the rest of it, slept peacefully in the cradle which was installed in the living room for now.

Raoul had started, of course, by asking prudent questions about her welfare, but Céleste had quickly understood the allusions and answered to all them positively and with a beaming smile, while Meg couldn't help but glance playfully at Christine, making both of them stifle their giggles. Raoul turned to them, annoyed, before showing himself incapable of cracking a smile himself.

At a moment where the three girls were alone, the conversation, of course, thanks to Meg, led to chat about the soon-to-come Venice carnival.

"You'll have to help me find a good costume for Christine," the petite blonde chirped. "All she thinks about is the wonderful time she's going to spend with Raoul. But you know – she has to find something significant to wear, right?"

Christine sighed, glancing at her friend with an indecipherable smile on her lips, while Meg would shrug cheekily. "And we'll have to think of yours too!" The ballerina continued, clapping in her hands. "Though I think Erik probably thought of something…"

Christine and Céleste both looked at Meg in surprise because of how she had used Erik's name. But Meg didn't seem intimidated one bit. She had learned the fearsome Phantom of the Opera's name, she was therefore not going to keep on calling him "Monsieur le Fantôme", especially when he had no Opera house to haunt anymore…

"He did, actually," said Céleste. "He got a Snow Queen gown."

Both Christine and Meg's eyes lit.

"Oh, it's perfect!" the petite blonde chirped. "And… and… I can just see that with a tiara shaped like a snowflake!"

"I don't have a tiara, actually…"

"Well, we'll have to find one! We have two weeks for that, and we'll have to hurry! I just have to convince Alexandre to be Puss in Boots while I'll be the White Cat, you know, the duo from Sleeping Beauty, and…"

Meg was not able to finish, since Céleste and Christine were laughing whole-heartedly at the mental picture of Alexandre Goutelin disguised as a rather grumpy Puss in Boots.

A/N: You know the drill: reviews?