Just a few notes before the story. First, I don't own any of the characters (except some minor one like Madame Miron). The story is based mostly on the recent film of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera," but there are a few nods to Leroux. I have made Meg a brunette and Christine a blonde (it's my story and that's how I see it). Over the next few days, I will tidying up a few typos here and there. Many thanks to every one who has left wonderful comments! I am glad you liked it.

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Chapter One - Descent

Less than a week had passed since the mad events at the Opera Populaire. For several days, all of Paris talked of nothing else. Of the dark, disconcerting Don Juan Triumphant, of Ubaldo Piangi's murder, of the devastating chandelier crash, the sudden disappearance of Christine Daae and the Vicomte de Chagny.

Most of all, they talked about the Phantom. Who was this mysterious madman? Where did he come from? Did he really live beneath the Opera House? Some said he did, in a fantastic grotto or a hermit's dungeon. Where did he come from? Some said from Hell, others laughed at that. Those who had seen him in those swift, horrible moments after Christine unmasked him on the stage talked of a monstrous face. Those who had not said he had the face of angel.

And what had become of Christine Daae and the Vicomte? It was known that, when the Phantom abducted Christine from the stage, Raoul de Chagny pursued them. But the fates of all three were unknown. It was thought they were all dead by the Phantom's hand.

I, Meg Giry, knew little enough, but it was more than most.

Overnight, though, interest in the Opera Ghost and his supposed victims faded as a new scandal - one involving the truly sordid affairs of a prominent member of the Government - seized the interest of the public.

Meanwhile, at the Opera House itself, we tried hard to return to our normal routines. The auditorium had been badly damaged and workers were clearing away the wreckage of the chandelier.

Worn out from dealing with the press and with investigators, the managers were looking for a new leading lady to replace Carlotta and Christine. This was no easy task as few were willing to even set foot in our theater. And who could blame them?

Under Maman's strict eyes, the girls of the ballet spent hours and hour practicing. It was a difficult time for Maman. The matter of the Opera Ghost had troubled her. The other ballet girls were very nervous and it was hard for them to rehearse when no one knew when or if we would be performing again.

Perhaps I found it the hardest to try. Too often, during those first days, I found myself thinking of that night, of the events that took place in the Phantom's underground home, of the mask which lay hidden in my tiny armoire.

Maman had told me to not to follow when she showed the Vicomte the passage that led to the Phantom's hiding place. But I went after them, despite her warnings. The mob was close behind me, calling out for revenge...for Joseph Buquet (though most of us loathed him in life) and for Ubaldo Piangi. When I reached the underground lake and the Phantom's lair, I saw no sign of Christine or the Vicomte. Well ahead of the mob, I waded across the lake and found myself standing amid velvet drapery and heavy candlesticks. Broken mirrors were everywhere. Tangled amid the shards, I saw a torn wedding veil. I saw a music box - a little monkey with cymbals on a little table at the foot of a black bed in the shaped of a swan.

And it seemed that I heard a sound. An echo of sorrow, nothing more. That shadow of a cry made me shudder, though I wasn't sure if it was from fear or pity.

Something white lay on the red velvet cushions of the bed. It was his mask. It looked so forlorn. I picked it up. Where was its owner?

At that moment, I heard the mob rushing in through the open portcullis. I grabbed the mask and went out to meet them. I stood there facing them, their torches reflected luridly in the water. Among them, I saw musicians, patrons, and stage hands. At their head, I recognized Messieurs Andre and Firmin. I was almost to surprised to see those two aging fops in such an aggressive state. Still, the Opera Ghost had certainly cost them a great deal.

Standing at the very edge of the lake, I called out across the water.

"He is dead!"

My cry, echoing off the stone walls and vaults, seemed to strike me. The men paused, torches flickering, guns poised.

"He's dead," I shouted again. "I saw him. He drowned there."

I pointed to the narrow opening where the lake flowed out to an underground stream. And, as if it were a trophy, I slowly held up the mask. The dark, empty eye framed the dancing flame of a torch.

"I swear to you, the Opera Ghost is dead."

Even days later, I still didn't know what I had lied to them like that, why I felt the need to protect this so-called Phantom who may have killed my dearest friend...who had murdered Bouquet and Piangi, who had brought a chandelier crashing down into a packed theatre only a hour earlier.

I knew Maman would not approve, but I had made up my mind to go back there. I wanted to know what had really happened, to find some sign of what had become of Christine, the Vicomte...and the Phantom.

On this particular morning, Maman had her hands full training some of the youngest members of the ballet corps, the "rats" as we often called them. I knew she would be occupied for a long time.

As discreetly as possible, I slipped the mask into a fold of my old shawl and let myself into Christine's dressing room. Her things were still there. A dressing gown lay draped across a chair. Flowers from the premiere of Don Juan Triumphant still filled the room. They were dry now, but a sweet scent still filled the room.

I saw a single red rose on the vanity table. A black ribbon was tied around its thornless stem. The petals had withered and darkened, the leaves curled.

Carefully, I pushed open the mirror and stepped into the stone corridor. I made my way down the long passage to the steps. There I paused. What would I find at the end of the journey? I continued on. The tunnel was so quiet, so unlike the chaos and noise of the Opera House above. The silence almost hurt my ears.

Down deeper and deeper until I came to the lake. A small boat drifted just out of my reach, but I knew the water was shallow. I took off my slippers and, gathering my skirt up, I waded across.

Someone must have been there since that night. A few of the candelabra which had lain on the ground had been righted. A few of the candles were lit! The veil was no longer on the floor; I saw no sign of it. Sheets of music lay scattered about. A violin lay on the bed.

Mon Dieu, was I mad? I was afraid... I had no business being there. I suddenly thought of Maman's warning to the Vicomte and others.

Keep your hand at the level of your eyes!

I remembered too late. At that moment, I felt the noose drop around my neck and a voice spoke in the darkness.

"Who are you and what are you doing here in my house?"

I recognized the harsh voice that had rang out through the theatre on the night of Carlotta's humiliation in Il Muto

Even as I pried in vain at the hemp cord, the Phantom stepped toward me, emerging like a true ghost from the darkest of the shadows near the broken mirror. Picking up a candlestick from the desk, he held it high and looked closely at me.

"What...you are Madame Giry's daughter...Meg Giry!"

I tried to answer him, but could only make a weak gasp as the rope grew tighter.

"Foolish little girl! You forget your mother's warnings, didn't you...your hand at the level of your eyes," he snapped. "Well, let me remove your necklace."

I saw him make a single, swift motion with his left hand and the noose suddenly slid from me. I was very dizzy and knew my knees were buckling beneath me. But, before I could fall, he had grasped my arm and pushed me to a chair.

Rubbing my sore neck, I stared up at him. He was not the immaculately dressed, mysterious figure I had glimpsed in the Opera corridors, nor the scarlet apparition of the Opera ball. His clothes were rumpled, his hair disheveled. He wore a mask, the black satin domino of "Don Juan Triumphant." It was askew on his face and barely covered the disfigured part of his face.

"Well, what are you doing here, Mademoiselle," he said, staring down at me. "I am sure your good mother would not approve."

"Maman doesn't know I am here," I said cautiously, "I only wanted...I just want to know where Christine is. And the Vicomte."

"To tell you the truth, Mademoiselle, I don't know! I sent her away. With him. I suppose they're safe somewhere. Married in some little church along the way, no doubt."

He looked away from me as he spoke. Had he really been in love with Christine? Surely, it was sorrow that I heard it his voice. That same sorrow I had heard that night.

"I didn't kill them," he snarled as he turned to me again, "if that is what you think!"

"Oh, no, monsieur. That isn't what I think!"

He began to pace the room, circled around the desk with his arms folded. He seemed to be deciding my fate. Perhaps I was a fool, but I was not frightened by him.

"Curiosity, little Mademoiselle, can be a very dangerous thing. I could have killed you. But I would not repay your mother by killing her only child."

He paused and stared into the broken mirror. It seemed as if he were trying to piece together his shattered reflection like a child's puzzle.

"You must excuse me," he said in a strained voice, "I was not expecting company."

I could see that something was wrong. He seemed unsteady, his hand searching for something to lean on. By then, I had recovered enough from my encounter with the Punjab lasso to stand. Before I could reach him, he had crumpled to his knees, holding the edge of the organ to keep from falling to the floor.

I tried to hold him up and I could feel the heat of his face. He was burning, feverish. Oh, what was I to do now?

He struggled back to his feet and I let him lean on me.

"Help me to the bed."

Carefully, we went up the steps together, his arm heavy on my shoulder. He moved slowly, breathing hard. A few paces from the bed, he fainted.

Somehow, I managed to push and drag him onto the bed. He was heavy, but I finally got him settled in the blood-red cushions. What was I supposed to do? What if he died?

I leaned down and slipped the black mask of his face. As I did, he seemed to shrink from me as if I had struck him.

I left quietly. I would find a way to help him.

I found Maman on the stairs to the ballet dormitory. She looked exhausted and did not question my absence.

"Maman, the Opera Ghost is still alive."

"What are you saying? What have you done, Meg?

Looking at her, I could not tell if I saw fear or anger in her eyes.

"You went down there, didn't you," she continued. "Ma petite, how could you be so foolish?"

"I was curious, Maman," I admitted. One simply did not lie to Madame Giry!

"Curious! Well, do you know what became of them?""He didn't kill them. He let them go. He said he sent her away with the Vicomte."

I saw Maman's sharp shoulders sag with relief. She has always treated Christine as if she were my own sister.

"Maman, the Opera Ghost is ill. And I am going to take care of him."

I had made my mind as I made my way back up through the tunnels leading from the lake to Christine's dressing room. I simply could not leave him like that, alone and ill. Whoever he was, whatever he had done, he still deserved some compassion. Even if Maman objected, I would do it.

There was a long silence as Maman and I walked down the corridors to our tiny apartment within the Opera House. At our door, she turned to me.

"Very well, Meg. Do what you think best. Only, be careful, ma petite. The world mistreated him for so long, he knows so little of kindness. You have seen what he is capable of."

I hugged her and hurried off in search of Madame Miron. Adele Miron was one of the Opera's best seamstresses and had charge of many of the ballet costumes. She was married to one of the trombone players. She knew a great deal about herbs and medicinal brews. It was said that many a chorus girl had gone to her for "help" when they found themselves with child by some lover. She would give them a special tea to drink. I did not particularly like her, but I knew she would be of use now.

She often worked late in the costume shop, even when there was no performance scheduled. She approached her tasks with an almost religious dedication. Her artistry with fabric and thread and spangles was the only thing about her that I liked and admired.

She was seated at her work table when I sought her out. Peacock-hued cloth shimmered before her. She was stitching whorls of silver and crystal beads on the skirt of a dress that had been intended for a new production of Berengaria de Navarre.

When I entered, she grinned up at me.

"Good evening, little Giry," she said with that shrill and sugary voice of hers, "what can I do for you?"

"I need some help, Madame. A...friend is ill."

She grinned again and glanced at my waist.

"A friend? Ah, little Giry, I am sure your mother would not approve."

Her insinuating tone infuriated me.

"No, Madame, that is not why I am here. I need something for a fever."

She set aside the beautiful costume and rose from her table.

"You know," she said with an amiable laugh, "for a ballet girl, you can be quite a little prude, Meg Giry. Follow me."

She led me into a smaller room next to her workshop. She unlocked an old cabinet and drew out several wooden caskets. She laid them on the table in front of them. Inside, there were packets which gave off sweet and spicy scents. She began to select certain packets, talking as she laid them out before her.

"They say your mother knows who the Opera Ghost really was, that she knew all his secrets. Is that true?"

I shrugged. I was not about to confide in this old gossip! Besides, Maman had not told me much about the Phantom. I knew only she had found him at a fair and brought him to the Opera House before she married my father.

"No, she really didn't know much. He sometimes asked her to deliver messages for him. Nothing more."

Madame was opening the packets and tapping various herbs into a small dish. She kept chatting as she measured and mixed.

"I did see the Opera Ghost myself you know. About six months ago. I'd been working late on some of those dresses for Hannibal. I was just going down the stairs and I saw a man down on the next landing. He had a fine figure and was dressed quite well and I thought he might be a patron who become lost. Looking for one of the chorus girls or some such thing. So I called to him, asked if he needed help. His back was to me and most of the lights were already out. When he heard me, he turned. Half of his face was in the shadows, but I could see this terrible white mask and his eyes. I've never seen such cold eyes. I probably would have screamed if he'd come toward me or even if he stood there a second more. But before I could even catch my breath, he was gone. Don't know how he could have gone so quickly like that."

She picked up another packet and added something to her concoction. She kept on talking.

"I think the Opera Ghost must have been the one who had me make that wedding dress. I didn't really make the connection at the time. I came into my workroom one morning and found a note on my table. It was not signed, but the writer wanted me to make a dress. Included a sketch of a very pretty white gown and veil. Along with that, there was some money. A generous amount and it was just a down payment, the note said. I couldn't help noticing that the measurements for the dress were the same as Mademoiselle Daae's. At the time, I thought it might have been that Vicomte since everyone said he was courting the poor girl."

She finally finished her work. She slid the herbal mixture into an envelope and told me to brew a tea from it. She assured me it would break even the worst fever. I promised I would pay her, but she shrugged.

"No need to. Your mother kept the old managers from firing my Augustine from the orchestra after that fight with Buquet. I'm just another person round this place who is in her debt."

I thanked Madame Miron and hurried off with the packet of medicine and her instructions for its use. I went back to our apartment to fetch a warmer shawl for myself, a blanket (I didn't know if I would find any in the underground lair), and my rosary. Maman was asleep and didn't hear as I quietly closed the door behind me.

The Phantom did not awaken when I came in. I laid the light blanket over him and, finding an ornate samovar in a corner, I brewed Madame Miron's tea.

Sitting carefully on the edge of the bed, I gently touched the unmarred side of his face. I was not sure how to awaken him.

"Christine," he whispered, "give me my mask. Oh, Christine, why?"

"No, monsieur, it's me. Meg Giry."

Slowly, he opened his eyes. He did not seem to recognize me at first.

"What do you want with me?"

I could hear a child's fear in his voice. I gently patted his hand, trying to reassure him. Poor man. What must his life have been like to have made him so wary!

"I have some tea for you. You are ill and it will help you. Please, drink it...here."

Gently, I eased him up and pushed pillows behind his head. I held the cup to his lips.

After he had taken the tea, he fell asleep again. I drew a chair close to the bed and stayed by him for a long time. I was not much of a nurse, but I could at least keep watch over him.

His sleep was not peaceful. I could not imagine what memories, what nightmares had overtaken him.

"Mother, please...I don't want to wear it. Why must I? Mother, no! Please, sir, don't hit me again...not the whip...please. I don't want them to see. No, no, no...they will kill me."

Oh, mon Dieu. I wished there was some way to help him. I saw the pain in his face as he turned on the pillows. I laid aside my rosary and took his hand, but he drew away.

"Christine, forgive me. Don't turn away...Christine, I will spare him. For you. Only stay with me, Christine. Christine, don't leave me. Save me, Christine...Christine...Christine!"

The agony in his voice was too much for me to bear. I leaned over him and stroked his hair. Carefully, I touched the right side of his face. I gently caressed his disfigured temple and laid my palm against his rough cheek. I realized that I was crying for him and my tears fell on his face.

Slowly, he began to relax. His hand reached up and covered mine.

I knew it must be very late now. There were no clocks in this place. I had seen a pocket watch lying on the floor, its dial smashed. Still, my own weariness told me that I had been there for hours. Keeping my hand on his face, I carefully lay down on the large swan bed and fell asleep beside the Opera Ghost.