Disclaimer: This story is based on a hodge-podge of Phantom storylines and characters, mainly ALW, Kay, and bits of Leroux tossed in here and there for some wicked fun. I love all of the characters and own none of them, except for all of my original ones.
The Stage of the Paris Opera House, 1911
"Sold! Your number, sir? Thank you." The rotund auctioneer crisply bowed to the bidder, then turned back to his small audience upon the darkened opera house stage. "Lot 663, then, ladies and gentlemen: a poster for this house's production of Hannibal by Chalumeau."
"Showing here." The porter unfurled a faded promotional depicting a bejeweled elephant and held it up for the gathering's scrutiny.
"Do I have ten francs?" continued the auctioneer. "Five then. Five I am bid…six…seven. Against you, sir, seven." The auctioneer turned to the august gentleman, newly mustachioed and smartly dressed in fine wool and a top hat. The young man lifted a gloved hand. "Eight," said the auctioneer. "Eight once. Selling twice." The man rapped his gavel. "Sold, to the Vicomte de Chagny. Thank you, sir."
Jean-Paul nodded to the auctioneer, his eyes glinting with the sport of the bid.
The frail, wheelchair-bound man at his side, however, tut-tutted in disapproval. "Whatever will you do with such an impractical thing, my boy?"
"I shall hang it on the wall of the music room at the chateau, Uncle, directly above Mother's lovely Steinway."
The old Comte snorted. "I suppose the piece would be somewhat complimentary to your bizarre collection of bagatelles from the world over. Not one thing matches the other."
"Therefore, they all match perfectly."
Philippe only shook his head at his nephew's offbeat witticism, now entirely accustomed to his eccentricities. Given the way the boy had been raised—traveling from country to country, never residing in one place more than a year at a time—it was no wonder he was something of an anomaly in France's aristocratic circle.
"She was in Hannibal, you know," Jean-Paul continued. "On this very stage."
"Yes. How could I possibly forget? Your father lost all reason the minute he saw her, he was so smitten."
Jean-Paul exhaled wistfully, thinking of the father he had known only through the stories told to him by his family. He was now older than Raoul de Chagny had been when he was untimely cut down, in the spring of 1884. A shadow flickered across his eyes. It was hard to fathom that the daring, brash man he had come to idolize had not seen as many days as he. A son did not like to think of his father as being destructible.
And then there was his stepfather—the only father he had ever known—a man who truly seemed to be indelible.
"Lot 664," the auctioneer's voice droned on, " a wooden pistol and three human skulls from the 1831 production of Robert le Diable by Meyerbeer."
To Jean-Paul, his stepfather had also been something of a demigod. Genius in every aspect, Erik Reinard had taught him and his younger siblings about music, art, science, cultures, nearly everything imaginable. Everything, except for what lay beneath the white mask. It was simply understood by all of them that one did not ask questions about his face. With time, his father began to indulge some of their curiosities, however vague his answers were; such as "My face is not like others", or "It is too frightening for young eyes."
When Jean-Paul was sixteen, he had a particular row with his father. He had just returned from university, and was home for a brief visit until he went to Le Château de Chagny for a month with his uncle.
In his first year at the university, a drive—no, passion—had awakened within him to search for a cause in life other than scholarship and music. One of his fellow mates had dragged him to a clandestine meeting sponsored by many of the aristocratic sons he had crossed paths with in his uncle's circles. They were a Jacobin brotherhood, they explained—a society of men from all walks of life, whose fathers and fathers' fathers had influenced and financed for nearly a century. It was a shock, of course, for Jean-Paul to discover that his own father, Raoul de Chagny, had once been a member of this secret brotherhood. The old Comte had never mentioned them, and his parents certainly had not.
When Erik unearthed his son's involvement with this Fraternité through inexplicable sources, he was livid.
"If you persist to associate with these imbeciles, Jean-Paul, you will not be returning to university," he had said forebodingly, his yellow eyes snapping with anger.
"I see that you have set that old Persian daroga on my trail again," Jean-Paul had shot back. "How very predictable of you—you must always know absolutely every detail of my life, but tell me nothing of your own! You leave for weeks at a time to places you cannot disclose, for purposes you keep only to yourself—"
"You are my son, Jean-Paul. I have a right to know what trouble you are getting yourself into."
"I am not your son," he spat. "I am a Chagny."
Regret had instantly filled him when he saw the hurt in his father's eyes. Youthful pride would not let him take back the words, however, and they hung there in the silent room, the venom of them permeating the air.
"What is it you would like to know?" Erik finally asked.
"I want to know what your face looks like. I'd like to see my father—not a mask."
Jean-Paul stared at the imposing man before him, trying to read his carefully hidden thoughts. "Why will you not let me see your face? Is it that you don't trust me?"
"I have my reasons."
The young man laughed bitterly. "That is what you always say."
After that, the discussion came to an abrupt end.
So Jean-Paul had next turned to his mother in regard to the 'Fraternité' issue. His quiet, beautiful mother, with her smiling eyes and loving ways, had taken him by the hand and told him something he had never forgotten:
"Someday you will understand that parents often feel as though they are sending their children into a wide, turbulent sea with very little to guide them—even from the moment they are born," she said gently. "We know we must let you choose your course on your own, yet when we see that you are about to sail headlong into a storm, we cannot help but offer guidance: our own charts and compass, so to speak."
It was then that Jean-Paul was told the story of his family's involvement with the Fraternité and the tragedy it had brought to them. Vague snatches of memory began to sharpen when placed in context: crossing the ocean on a monstrous ship; white, sandy streets packed with robed vendors and camels; a city bridge stretching across a river, teeming with artists, musicians, and a particular bohemian organ grinder with a trained Persian monkey…
"You never brought me the music box," Jean-Paul had said suddenly.
His mother looked at him, perplexed. "What music box?"
"The one in Paris with a barrel organ and a monkey. I remember you telling me about it."
Christine laughed lightly. "Such a memory you have, Jean-Paul! I had forgotten my promise to have your Papa fetch it for you from the opera house…"
"Lot 665, ladies and gentlemen: a papier-mâché musical box, in the shape of a barrel-organ. Attached, the figure of a monkey in Persian robes playing the cymbals."
The announcement of the next lot at once yanked Jean-Paul back to the present. It, after all, was his sole purpose for attending the Populaire's auction.
"This item," exclaimed the auctioneer, "discovered in the vaults of the theatre: still in working order."
"Showing here." The porter held up the music box and turned the handle.
"May I start at twenty francs?"
Jean-Paul indicated, then turned cool eyes upon his competition, silently letting them know he would be winning the item and it was useless to up the bid.
"Fifteen, then? Fifteen I am bid. Sold, for thirty francs to the Vicomte de Chagny. Thank you, sir."
Jean-Paul took the music box monkey from the porter, staring with wonder at the antiqued thing he had heard about so often. It was finely crafted, right down to the tiny gold embroidery around its vest. He had never really seen anything like it before.
"Well now, my boy," he uncle grunted, "you have what you came for. If we are to be on time for your debut gala, we must be on our way." The Comte's words fell on deaf ears, however. For at that moment, Jean-Paul's eyes were riveted to the monstrous tarp-covered object being unveiled for bidding.
"Lot 666, then," continued the auctioneer, gesturing to the object, "a chandelier in pieces. Some of you may recall the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera: a mystery never fully explained…"
The old Comte "harrumphed." Inclining his grizzled head to his nephew, he whispered: "This pile of crystal is that grotesque thing your stepfather caused such a stir with. I remember thinking it was more than ostentatious to begin with, when the opera house first opened. One of Garnier's additions, no doubt."
"…Our workshops have repaired it and wired parts of it for the new electric light, so that we may get a hint of how it may look when reassembled…"
"They'll not get a sou back of the fortune they spent to restore that hideous thing, I guarantee it!" exclaimed Philippe.
"Now gentlemen, let us start our bidding at thirty thousand francs? Fifteen thousand, I am bid…Thirty thousand…"
"Fifty, Monsieur." Jean-Paul lifted his hand. He turned to his uncle (who was rather close to having a fit of apoplexy) and grinned. "We can hang it in the chateau ballroom."
It was some time after the auction had concluded, just as he finished assisting his uncle into the estate's new Renault limousine and bid the fuming man farewell, that he felt a tap upon his shoulder.
"Did you get it?"
Taken aback, Jean-Paul whirled around and came face to face with his sister. Dressed from head to toe in an ensemble befitting a Couturière Parisienne fashion plate, she cut an intimidating figure as she glared at him from beneath the shadow of her wide-brimmed hat. Smiling, he placed a quick kiss upon her cheek and offered her his arm.
"A pleasure to see you too, Lina," he exclaimed flippantly. "I am very much enjoying my time in Paris—thank you for inquiring. Uncle Philippe is grand, also. We plan to rub elbows with the best of society tonight, you know, so I mustn't spend all evening 'dallying about the opera house'—so he said. Shall we take a stroll?"
The young woman slapped her brother's arm in irritation, but still followed his lead along the Rue Scribe. "Good Lord, Jean-Paul, just answer my question. Did you win the music box or not?"
"Yes, and it was exactly as mother had described it! I sent it back to the town home, along with a few other purchases."
Jean-Paul glanced at his sister and saw that the ice had begun to thaw from her gold eyes.
Evelina had always been something of a cool, distant person. That, combined with her intellect and love for expensive clothing, often overawed those who did not know her. More than once, he had inadvertently heard one of his lads compare her to a Greek statue: all beauty and no warmth. Jean-Paul, however, knew that beneath her icy exterior was a fierce loyalty to him and the rest of the family. His sister was more than capable of love. But at twenty-five years, no man, in her eyes, had yet measured up to her standards of brilliance. It exasperated her mother. Her father, however, felt nothing but relief at her lack of suitors.
"Papa was sorry to be missing your Paris debut last night," she said. "He knew how important this particular concert was to you. You played tremendously, Jean-Paul. The Suite Bergamasque was especially fascinating."
"It was of no significance," he lied nonchalantly. "Anyway, he has heard me perform too many times to count. And given the opera house venue, I could hardly blame him for not being there."
"That doltish, meddlesome journalist! Why did he have to go rooting around through Papa's past, anyhow? Now he can hardly go anywhere without some idiotic creature asking him if he is the Opera Ghost."
"It isn't as if people didn't stare at him before, Lina," Jean-Paul said diplomatically. "Besides, you can hardly fault M. Leroux. Such a fantastic story was bound to be unearthed sooner or later."
"And pestering poor M. Khan when he was practically on his deathbed," she went on, ignoring Jean-Paul's reasoning. "At least the Persian had the sense to tell that wicked man that Papa was dead, or he would be hounded by Leroux's readers until he truly was in his grave! Why Nadir had to say anything at all—" Evelina sniffed, and paused to push up her lace-trimmed parasol as if she were snubbing all of Paris itself.
"Lina," Jean-Paul cajoled, "M. Khan must have had a cause for doing so, like Father said. And if Father does not blame him, we cannot, either." The Vicomte knew, though, that it was much easier to say than to actually do. In fact, when he had first been handed several issues of M. Leroux's serial in La Belle Époque, he had nearly broken from his tour venue in Berlin to return to Paris and demand an explanation from their old family friend.
His mother, however, had anticipated him. As he was packing his bags, he received a telegram from her, kindly asking him to postpone any hasty action until he had spoken with his father.
Her message also served to remove any lingering doubt as to whether Le Fantome de l'Opera was truly his beloved Papa; she had all but confirmed it. Even after he received her telegram, he had a difficult time associating the masked man who had loved him and guided him with the deadly trapdoor-lover of Persia. And undoubtedly, he could not picture him as the criminal who had kidnapped his mother and nearly murdered his natural father.
So Jean-Paul had done as his mother had requested. When he concluded his run in Berlin, he returned to his childhood home in the High Tatras to discover the long-withheld truth about his father, from his father.
"So, you want to know whether the story is true. Is that it?" The silver-haired man did not even turn around when Jean-Paul entered his library. Seated in his old armchair next to the fire, he waved a pale, bony hand towards the empty chair across from him. Jean-Paul sat down.
"Was the journalist correct? Are you him?"
Erik leveled his yellow eyes upon his son. "What do you think?"
"I—" He swallowed. "I think it must be true. Most of it, anyhow."
Erik nodded. "As you can see for yourself, I am still alive. But the majority of it—aside from several ridiculous sensationalisms writers so love to employ—is accurate."
"And the ending?"
"My death was a ruse created years ago to protect our family. Given my despotic past, as well as my current occupation, it was a necessity."
"And what is your current occupation?" Jean-Paul inquired cautiously.
"Surely you must have had determined the nature of my career by now."
"I have always had my suspicions."
Erik mouth curled ironically. "My work with the Sûreté, like M. Leroux's Shade, is considered to be one of those little 'state services' that those in positions of authority usually keep under lock-and-key. In fact, I think it very possible that if Leroux indeed stumbled upon evidence of the Shade, he also discovered a bit more about my existence than the Sûreté was willing to admit to."
"Do you think that is why the Persian gave Leroux an interview? To prevent him from publishing the rest of the story?"
"I do," said Erik, his eyes growing somber at the mention of his deceased friend. "Despite our differences, Nadir Khan was a good friend. He would not have betrayed me out of maliciousness."
Jean-Paul exhaled, relieved. He had not wanted to think the old daroga capable of duplicity, but given the frightening account …
The young man's gaze fell upon his father's masked face. Leroux had described his father as nothing short of a monster—a living corpse. Jean-Paul, however, had never seen his face. He knew what the next logical question was, but dared not…
"You are an intelligent man," his father said evenly. "You know the answer already."
"Your face," Jean-Paul faltered. "Is it as bad as all that?"
"Perhaps you would like to judge for yourself?"
Jean-Paul could only nod 'yes'. Suddenly, the one thing he had longed to know all of his remembered life seemed like a dreadful prospect. Slowly, Erik rested one hand on his mask; the other slid behind his neck and loosed an almost invisible thread that held it in place. He lowered the cold piece of porcelain from his twisted visage and closed his eyes, waiting for Jean-Paul's reaction.
Jean-Paul gaped at the strange-looking, horrific face before him, his eyes wide. Yet he could not tear them away from the warped flesh, the sunken cheek, and the half-nose that had been hidden for so long.
And then his father, who still held bated breath, exhaled and opened his yellow eyes. The slight, startling movement was enough, however. For all of his twenty-eight years, Jean-Paul leapt back from the frightful sight like a panic-stricken child and stumbled out of the cottage into the glaring sunlight. Overwhelmed, he collapsed over the top of his knees as his insides flipped over and over until they could not longer hold their contents, and he became sick. After several minutes, he pushed himself off of the ground and pressed his face into his clammy palms.
Before long, he heard the door open and footsteps unhurriedly make their way along the gravel path, halting directly behind him.
"I am sorry—" Jean-Paul moaned. Rather, began to moan. Before he could finish the sentiment, a torrent of icy water splashed down upon his head, drenching him through and chilling him to the bone. Abashed, he peered up at his father through the rivulets of water running from his hair. Mask now replaced, Erik was clutching an empty rain bucket and looking down at him with a mix of annoyance and concern.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
Jean-Paul nodded, his chattering teeth making speech impossible.
Erik sighed. "My apologies. I had forgotten that your stomach was as weak as your mother's. But really, there was nothing more I could have done to warn you."
"T-Thank y-you," the young Vicomte stuttered, wrapping his trembling arms tightly about him for warmth. "Thank you f-for showing m-me."
Erik peered at him. "You do not hate me for it?"
Jean-Paul shook his head. "Why should I? You are my father."
Erik's mouth curled into a smile. "I am very, very pleased to hear that," he murmured.
"What was that?"
"Nothing. Just thinking aloud." His father reached down and helped him to his feet. "Come on. You had best dry off before Christine finds out what I have done..."
Leroux's novel had been printed nearly a year ago.
Since then, the growing publicity of the book had taken its toll on his family—both the Chagnys and the Reinards. Now, wherever he performed, he was known more for being the progeny of 'the opera singer and her lover from that French novel', rather than an accomplished concert pianist. Luckily, his younger siblings were able to maintain relative anonymity under the protection of their unfamiliar name. His father and mother, however, were not so fortunate.
Up until the time Le Fantome de l'Opera was published, Paris had all but forgotten the strange affair that had occurred at the opera house. Now, however, public scrutiny had forced his parents back into hiding. They knew all too well that it would only take one diligent reader with the time and means to search the public records for any mention of one Christine de Chagny, née Daaé, and uncover her trail. So his parents had retreated from Bratislava to their Tatras mountain cottage for the winter months, and had decided to stay there, once and for all.
Jean-Paul turned his face up to the dome of the opera house, his gaze spanning its grandiose ornamentation along the edge of the roof, finally coming to rest upon the great bronze Apollo and his lyre. Shielding his eyes from the sun's gleam, he studied the statue, trying to picture his mother as Christine Daaé—then, only a young chorus girl of eighteen—pledging her love to Raoul de Chagny…and with each quiet word, unknowingly destroying the teacher who secretly clung to the shadows.
She had been ill that past spring—truly ill, for the first time that he could remember. Bed-ridden and delirious, her family had been told by the physician that if her fever persisted, she would not survive.
That night was one of only two occasions Jean-Paul could recall his father crying; the first was but a hazy memory from an event he could not place. His straight-backed, confident demeanor gone, Erik had looked all of his seventy years. It was then that the son realized his father had actually grown old.
Eventually, his mother's fever broke and she had lived, but her illness had truly terrified his father. After that, he had retired from his service to the Sûreté once and for all, vowing to live the rest of his days the way he wanted to. "I only have so much time," Erik had explained to his children, "and I am not going to throw away my last years on a cause that will not matter two months from now."
In the weeks after her illness, his parents would often walk along their mountain lake, simply enjoying the other's company. Jean-Paul had watched them one afternoon, unobserved, from the hill. His mother, shawl wrapped tightly around her thin shoulders, had leaned on his father's arm for support. He had brushed his fingers over her dark curls, now streaked with gray, and placed a tender kiss on top of her head. And then she had smiled up at him, her love plainly written across her face.
That image, now burned in his mind, was how Jean-Paul would remember them.
"Jean-Paul." Evelina shook his arm, pulling him from his thoughts.
"You haven't even been listening to me!" His sister sighed in vexation. "I said, I think we are being watched. Look at that automobile, just sitting there at the brougham entrance. See? I can make out somebody peering through the curtains!" Before Jean-Paul could respond, Evelina, in a fury, closed her parasol and strode over to the parked automobile, ready to demand an explanation.
"Lina!" Jean-Paul began to run after her, calling to her to be careful. As he neared the motorcar, however, realization struck him. A smile spread across his face and he slowed down, leisurely peering into the curtained windows next to his sister. He tapped on the glass. The door opened and Jean-Paul stooped over to see its occupants.
"This is quite the contraption you have acquired, Father." He glanced over the sleek black and burgundy Rolls Royce import, its brassy lanterns and clean wheels, and whistled. "Expensive, too. How many francs did you put down for it? Too many, I'd venture."
Inside the automobile cab sat his parents. Both were dressed to the nines in their finest eveningwear: his mother, her hair elegantly curled and pinned, the row of diamonds around her white neck sparkling in the lowlight of the cab; and his father, tailored and meticulous as ever in his white tie and tails.
Evelina scowled at her brother. "I think the Rolls is extraordinary, Papa. Hello, Maman."
"My dear," Christine said warmly, leaning out of the cab and kissing her eldest daughter's cheek.
"Besides, Jean-Paul," Evelina continued, "you are a great one to talk. Papa, you will never believe what Jean-Paul has just purchased!"
Erik smiled at his eldest daughter. "Why not tell your mother and me all about it as we drive?" He reached a gloved hand out and helped her into the automobile cab, then slid over to leave room for his son.
"Where are we going?" Jean-Paul asked as he climbed into the car and settled into the seat next to his father.
"To your debut gala, of course. I would be keen on hearing an encore of your Suite Bergamasque." Erik frowned. "Or would you rather your mother and I not attend this time?"
"No, no, I am glad you are here," Jean-Paul replied, perplexed. "But—forgive me, I am confused. You never go to Paris. I thought…"
"You thought I wouldn't attend your Paris debut last night, simply because it was at the Opéra Populaire?" Erik finished.
Erik chuckled quietly, his eyes crinkling in amusement. He grasped Christine's hand and the two shared some private joke between them. "My boy, if there was ever a venue in which I could enjoy a performance unseen or undisturbed, it is the Paris Opera House. There is a particular box that I am quite fond of—perhaps you know it?"
Jean-Paul's brow furrowed with concentration. Then comprehension dawned and he sat there, foolishly simpering like a schoolboy. Why had he ever doubted that his father would be there for one of the greatest performances of his life? In the end, out of all the acclaim, fame, and fortune his music had given him, only one man's opinion truly mattered. His teacher's. The man who had brought music to his life for as long as he could remember.
"Box five," Jean-Paul answered. "Box five is always the best."
A/N: Again, a final thank you to all of you that have followed this story, read it, and offered such wonderful encouragement! I truly have appreciated every single review, and you all have done a great deal towards pushing me to finish this story.
Thank you to phantomy-cookies for her inspired reviews of every single chapter, her delightful wanking with love of my writing, and her assistance betaing when called upon.
And of course, I am so very grateful to the incredibly talented women who have edited my work, talked shop with me, and helped me to brainstorm when I was in a muddle: my betas, Barefoot Advocat and Le Chat Noir. You both have really helped me to become a better writer.
I will be revising some earlier chapters of Fraternité, but no major overhauls. So if, someday, you should happen to get a Fraternité update, sorry—it won't be a continuation :) Perhaps a one-shot someday if I want to revisit the characters, but this is the end, folks.
My next project will be the 1920s Hollywood tale, "Golden Day," so add it to your story alerts if you'd like to follow it. This story will be updated as I have time, what with graduate school getting my attention. It will be very loosely based on the POTO story, with only the fundamental thematic elements recognizable. In other words, it will be more original story than POTO-based. However, as it will still have some recognizable POTO elements, I'll leave it in the POTO category.
Again, thank you for taking the trip with me, and be sure to share your thoughts on the story!