Author's Notes: The Phantom of the Opera does not belong to me in any way whatsoever. I tread precariously over the genius of other's.

Formatting: Sadly, does not make it particularly easy to make paragraph breaks, or to allude to them. All that will allow of me is a simple '-' to show a scene change. Hopefully, they will be more abiding in the future.

Once More

Chapter 1

The Opera House was just as she remembered it from a year ago. The chandelier crash singed the backstage area, it was true; but for the most part it seemed as though nothing had happened. It was as though the mysterious Phantom of the Opera had never existed.

Christine Daaé was sure that M. Andre and M. Firmin had no qualm with these ideas, along with the rest of the stagehands.

Taking her purse in hand, the dainty woman embarked from the carriage that had picked her up at the Lyon station and made her way across the glossy cobblestones, fresh with rain. She was returning now to the last place she had ever thought she would perform in again.

Yet here she was, scheduled to sing at the Opera Populaire; just two years after she had sworn to herself never to return.

Unused to walking in through the main entrance, she hesitated at the golden doors, freshly painted in a new coat after Paris' harsh winters. But, pushing any fears out her mind as best she could, she crossed the marble threshold into a world she had come to know so well. The figures and statues still remained, immaculate as always; the floors polished so that her reflection shone down upon them, and the air was scented dimly of lemon oil and candle wax. It was an Opera House like any others she had performed at. And yet it was not.

"Ah! Mlle. Daaé! It seems you have returned to us." An overly-sweet voice called across from above, and directing her eyes towards the sweep of stairs before her, she found herself gazing at M. Andre. A slightly dumpier M. Andre, but him nonetheless.

"It seems I have." Christine replied cordially, hoping he wouldn't bring up—

"When was the last time I saw you? It was the night of—,"

"Of Don Juan, yes." The young girl found herself replying tersely.

"Ah, yes, well. That was certainly…," But his thoughts died, and the two walked up the stairs in silence for a moment longer, before, in his usual way, he continued, "Come up into my office so I can inform you on the nights we have you scheduled to perform. The company you work with now only stays three months in each location, so we must be sure to have as many performances as possible, now mustn't we?"

That was the way things were now. She was a famous Opera star, a Prima Donna like Carlotta, although perhaps a more well-received. Two years of hard work had finally paid off when she had been hired as the premier soprano in the renowned traveling tour. She had left Rome not a few days ago, and after Paris came London. Her life was singing, as it had been destined.

Christine said nothing as they climbed the stairs, but subconsciously held her purse with a strong grip—almost expecting to hear him whisper into her ears…

Christine…

"Are you alright Mlle. Daaé? You look as though you have seen a ghost." M. Andre chuckled, turning to face her.

"Ah…yes, I mean, no. I'm fine." She insisted, realizing that she was beginning to sweat. Certainly Erik couldn't have stayed, could he? The mob had destroyed his home, his work—everything. What more was there left for him?

Then why did she feel as though she was being watched?

"Christine? Christine, is that you?" a female voice to her left questioned.

Her dark blue eyes darted in that direction, thankful for small favors that it was not the deep, powerful voice of the man she remembered too well.

"Meg?" Christine cried, rushing towards her, tears of happiness pricking her eyes. The two embraced in a warm hug and the young ballet dancer explained, "I heard you were coming to Paris with the Opera Company, but I didn't even know you would come here! I didn't ever dream you would come…"

Meg stopped herself short, her cheeks turning pink, "That is to say, I thought would have chosen another Opera House."

"Another Opera house?" raged M. Andre, standing forgotten at the entrance to his office door, "Why go to another Opera House when this is the finest one in all Paris?" Especially when we just reupholstered all the seats too…!

"Of course," The dancer agreed, too quickly, her flush deepening, looking down at her attire.

"In any case, Mlle. Giry, shouldn't you be off practicing, or dancing somewhere? We do have a show tonight, you know." The manager dismissed rather briskly, opening the door to his office and walking inside without a second glance towards the dancer.

Giving an apologetic smile, Christine gave a parting hug and promised that as soon as she was able she would come and visit her and her mother.

It's turning out to be just like it was, the brunette thought to herself, wishing the pain and regret and remorse would fade away. Raoul, Erik, her father. So many regrets.

Here she was returning to the Opera House, returning lost, lonely, weary, and hopeless. The only difference proved to be that in her past she thought she could have survived without her Angel of Music. Now, it seemed, she could not. She was the last one to admit this, however. She was the star of the Opera world, a force to be reckoned with in any way possible. Alone but strong.

"Mlle. Daaé?" M. Andre questioned, seating himself at his plush leather chair, "Is something troubling you?"

"No, I'm fine. Just a little hungry." She admitted truthfully, shuffling into the room, her skirts swishing behind her.

"Ah, I understand completely. Thank goodness all that is required are a few signatures."

But a contract, and what it entailed, weren't just a few lines of texts. As Christine learned, they were to be much more.

-

Christine sank into the plush velvet chair, silently groaning. She felt as though she hadn't had a moments rest ever since she had been picked up at the station. The carriage ride had been bearable, but she had been too nervous to really relax during the half an hour it had taken for them to arrive. M. Andre had then made her sign a contract and quickly bustled her about the stage with it's new and improved amenities—namely the new reupholstering of the chairs, and the extra fortified chandelier that glistened above.

"Is that the same one?" she had questioned as they swept across the stage.

"What?" M. Andre questioned, somewhat off guard, "Oh, no no of course not. It would have been too much to repair—the original has been sent into the vaults to be dealt at a later time when crystal is not terribly expensive."

Nodding at this statement, glad to find that something besides the color of the seats had changed, she had been bustled back stage and into the company of Madame Giry. Their embrace had been short, but heartfelt, with the disdainful eye of M. Andre watching them.

The manager had left her then, and the elder Giry had showed her to old dressing room. Shivers crept calling up Christine's spines and with every sound, with every whisper, with every hush, she could have sworn she heard her name echoing in the stale air of backstage.

Christine…

"Mlle. Daaé?" Madame Giry had questioned, a cup of tea outstretched in her dainty if not elegant hands.

"Ah, thank you," Christine gushed, reaching out instinctively. She needed a cup of tea. It wasn't healthy to be this nervous, this on edge.

The ballet instructor said nothing, but turned towards her old dressing bureau and proceeded to make her own cup. As she did so, the twenty-year-old girl looked about the room, feeling very exposed, even though there were walls on all four sides and not a window in the room.

The room itself was practically the same—although it looked as though a fresh coat of wallpaper had been placed, hiding the smoke and charred pattern of roses that she had grown to both love and hate. She had learned such twisted emotions for many things in the Opera house.

"So," The older woman questioned in her usual briskness that Christine remembered so well, "What happened?"

Christine, who had finally ventured to take a sip of the potent blend, chocked on the tea and stammered, "W-What do you mean, Madame Giry?"

"I think you know very well what I mean, Mademoiselle. The last time any of us at the Opera house heard of you, you were off to marry the young Viscount de Chagny. And here you return to us a Prima Donna of the Opera world, with no ring about your finger."

Wishing she could just disappear, Christine moved deeper into the seat. She couldn't hide the truth from Madame Giry, of all people—but why did she have to tell her here? In her old dressing room? With….the mirror but a few feet away.

"Is he…gone?" Christine questioned at last, nervousness, regret, and apprehension filled in her voice.

"Who? You mean le fantôme?" Madame Giry questioned, placing down her tea and crossing her legs, her dark eyes looking at her across the room full of truth.

"Yes…the…Phantom."

"I would surmise so. I hear nothing of him, there are no accidents, I presume that the Phantom has disappeared." Though the man remains, Giry finished absently. She did not wish to scare the young singer away if the truth were to be revealed. It would all happen in good time. No doubt Erik would make certain of that.

At hearing these words, a strange chord was struck inside Christine. She felt like she was deflating. So, he was gone. He had left. There had been nothing more to stay for. She would never see him again.

But she had made her choice long before, hadn't she?

Hadn't she?

Well, if he was gone, there was no point in hiding her past. He would never know of what had happened to her—of how foolish she had been. Of the wrong decisions she had allowed and made.

Clearing her throat, Christine Daaé began, but not before casting one hurried glance towards her old mirror where she would have sworn she saw a flicker of movement.

Wishful thinking will get you nowhere, Christine.

-

The house had been magnificent: even more beautiful and spectacular as she could have imagined. To her the innocent countryside Chateau seemed something fit for a king and a queen. The floors had been so heavily polished that the mild sunlight of early spring had dazzled her eyes. Everywhere was sparkling china, silver, crystals; and art, sumptuous paintings of the Chateau's previous owners, vistas of foreign countries, and scenes of the hunt.

"It's all right, Christine, they will be sure to love you. After all," Raoul had whispered, tilting her head towards his and planting kiss onto her brow, "How could they not? You are indeed an angel."

At those words she had mentally stiffened, though she did not let such emotion reach her face. The word 'angel' would forever bring memories of a dark underground lair filled with the glow of candles to her mind.

"Oh, Raoul, are you sure? I mean—," She was nervous. Christine only vaguely remembered Raoul's parents and was uneasy of being introduced to him. The fact that she was merely a common ballet dancer did not fail to escape her mind. Whether she had a good voice or not, she was still part of the chorus; she was not the spotlight. Anyone involved in the arts was taboo territory the day and age and Raoul came from a noble family…

"How could I not be sure? They will love you." He insisted, bringing her close and planting a trail of wet kisses along her neck. "They must, for both our sakes, so we can be married as soon as possible."

She shivered in happiness beneath his touch and wrapped her arms around him, trying to calm her nerves.

"Raoul—not here, what if somebody sees?"

Her fiancée had pulled away from her then, a look of wry humor flashing across his handsome face, "No, he won't see, will he? He's gone. He will never bother us again."

She said nothing, but tried to smile, unaware of a person approaching from behind him.

"Monsieur? The lady of the house would wish to see you now." The newly arrived butler rang out in a dull voice, attempting not to look at their spectacle.

"Ah, yes." Raoul fumbled, adjusting his cravat, "Wait here, my darling, until I send for you…"

His voice had suddenly seemed full of nervousness and anticipation then, though Christine did not notice. She meekly nodded and took her seat near a window, looking over the properly hedged and trimmed gardens.

The first fifteen minutes had been utter silence and Christine's nerves had calmed, enjoying the open feel of the countryside from her view. There was not the city in sight, just trees; fresh trees sprouting new growth with waves of deep red tulips growing in their shade.

But then the voices broke through the wall.

"That is not what we meant by new and different, Raoul!" It was a voice of an older female. No doubt, Christine thought, gripping the chair; his mother.

"She comes from a fine respectable family—you know of her father, Charles—,"

"Some Violin maker's daughter is not what we had in mind for you when you went to Paris!" The woman's voice again, growing harsher, more cold. "You know what situation we are in Raoul—we need new money—,"

"And what of Christine then? I love her, do you expect me to throw her away!"

There had been utter silence. Complete and total silence. Even after Christine had moved from her chair to press her ear against the wall, she had heard nothing. There had been the murmur of voices, but she could not distinguish any words.

A second later the door calmly opened and she jumped back away from the wall, flushed and apprehensive. She did not look up, she could not, but as the steps neared closer to her the young girl found it hard to remain so docile.

Tilting her face upwards she looked into the elderly face of what she presumed to be Raoul's mother.

"So, you are Christine Daaé?" The voice questioned. The tone was not full of vengeance, or hatred, or loathing; merely exhaustion. "I am so very sorry. This was not what any of us had in mind. It is not your fault, my dear. However….things like this do happen…"

Willing for no tears to prick her eyes, she questioned in as hardened a voice as she could managed, "What do you mean?"

"Have no fear, you will be nicely accommodated for your losses—financially, of course." The woman continued, taking her arm and guiding her in the opposite direction of the chateau, across a great expanse of white marble flecked in gold that clicked beneath her heals.

"My losses?" Christine raged, breaking her hand free from the woman in a snap, "What are you saying?"

The woman sighed, and took off her glasses and slowly polished them as though she had all the time in the world. Finally, at length, she replied, "It is fairly obvious. He had two choices—a life with you, and a life with money. We have raised our boy well, rich, and lavishly. Even though he may love you…well, he had never known a world of financial instability."

"And so, he chose money?" Christine whispered, dangerously low, finding anger and humiliation overpowering sorrow that all too soon she would know intimately.

The Viscountess de Chagny did not ever reply, but instead she withdrew from the folds of her lavish satin ensemble a check book and slowly began to write an amount.

"Be a wise girl and accept the money. I understand how you feel, and what you must be going through. However…"

The check waved in front of her.

That was the last thing Christine remembered before she awoke in a comfortable hotel room once again in Paris.

-

"And so, he chose money." Christine concluded feeling tired with a renewed sense of sorrow.

Madame Giry was silent in quasi-darkness of the room, but at length she replied, "You have exhausted yourself, Mlle. Daaé. I believe it is time you retired to your hotel."

Christine made no resistance but instead drained the remainder of her tea, brushed her eyes daintily with a handkerchief, and was escorted out of the room. Before she left her dressing room, a place that would—in weeks to come—be the only savior from her hectic life as an operatic singer, she left one last glance onto the mirror.

Oh, what a fool I have been. What a terrible fool.

-

A few moments later, Madame Giry returned to Christine's dressing room under the pretence of gathering the china to be sent off to be cleaned by a stage hand. Yet, as she collected the porcelain, she said in a very normal voice, "Come out, Erik. I know you are here."

Silence.

"Do not try to deceive me."

Finally, just as the Madame was gathering the sugar bowl and placing it on the silver tray, there was a whisper of fabric and a figure appeared from the direction of the mirror. His entrance had been so silent and secretive that had Madame Giry not been expecting it, she would have screamed in surprise.

"Do you think she saw me?" His voice questioned, controlled and calm. Too calm. Obviously he was attempting to sedate his temper.

"No. I do not. She presumes you for dead." She stated, taking the last bit of tea from her cup she quietly left the room, leaving Erik alone in a room he had once known intimately.

The cloaked figure said nothing but only stared at the indentation her small body had made against the plush chair.

So, it seemed, Christine had returned to him at last.

He could not believe it! Christine had returned to him. Erik ran his hands nervously through his hair as he stormed through the underground tunnels without a place to go. His stride was long and heavy, his face—which he now kept unmasked most of the times, was covered in a thin layer of sweat.

How could this be! Had she come back just to torture his existence with the possibilities of hope? It wasn't fair, damn it. Why did salt have to be added to his tender wound!

There was no hope as far as Christine was concerned; now, if only his heart would listen to his head. Ah, that would be an accomplishment indeed, he thought with a scowl.

Stooping into a back entrance to his lair, he hissed in bitter agony. Christine had been beautiful—more beautiful, if possible, as he remembered her. She had grown, blossomed, in ways that not even his wildest fantasies could create. If that was even possible…for his dreams were of the most detailed nature, at times.

And yet she hung before him, this glistening ornament, still untouched, still innocent, naïve, everything he had cherished her for—Christine hung before him, taunting and breath-taking in her glory. She was the forbidden fruit, one he had promised himself never to pursue again.

Bitterly, he shoved aside some sheets of parchment atop a desk and smashed down into a seat, continuing to run his madly through his hair.

She is here. Inside the Opera house! You can smell her scent, you can still remember her lips, you sick bastard. It has been two years, she was nearly forgotten!

Glaring absently at his lair, his blue eyes seeing everything and nothing, he buried his head in his hands and attempted to steady his hoarse breathing as he thought back to those moments as he watched her tearful account in her old dressing room. A terrible sense of nostalgia had overtaken him as he watched Christine; her bosom heaving in emotion, her cheeks flushed with the beginning of tears, the sorrow in her form.

Yes, he remembered them all. There was nothing he could forget when it came to his Angel. Her betrayal least of all.

Erik's eyes snapped open in an instant—she had left him, yes. Of course, she had made her choice and look where it had landed her? So, the Viscount de Chagny had chosen money over her? Well, her torture was hardly as great as that he had suffered for his entire life. That girl did not know the meaning of suffering as it was.

And yet, his breath hitched as his eyes peered across the glossy lake, remembering the events from two years ago as they played before his eyes—how magnificently she had arisen from the ashes of her past life. How gloriously she had returned from that setback with that pampered bastard.

Christine had done better than he could have ever hoped, ever imagined for her. His Angel of Music had surpassed even his standards, and for this, and this alone, was she to be commended.

Her idiotic decisions when it came to matters of the heart, her regrets, her sorrow; they were none of his concern now.

All that mattered, Erik mused softly to himself as he gazed down at his porcelain mask, was that she had returned and perhaps finally things could be amended.

It was a very dangerous line to choose to walk, but heaven or hell, what did it matter?