Author's notes: As promised, this is the very, VERY AU phic I've mentioned when I posted the latest chapter of "Purgatory". You might be confused, so I wrote a bit of an introduction at the beginning of this chapter. This is, as mentioned, very AU, so be prepared for a few shocks.

I've played a bit with the timeline in Kay, so if you haven't read her book yet, you might be even more confused (is that even possible?). If you have, you know when and where this is happening and who the other characters are. (I hope I got the Italian right… please forgive any mistakes! The AltaVista translator isn't completely reliable…)

To stay true to Kay, this should be somewhere during 1846, I think, the last year of Giovanni's narrative… for various reasons. Christine is as old as Luciana here. Based primarily on Kay and bits of Leroux, I'll be using some of ALW´s lyrics as well. And I'll take the liberty of giving our little ingénue a bit more spine than she usually has.

The story is already planned out, so don't worry about anything. Just sit back and enjoy the first chapter of what will hopefully be a novel-length phic. I'm finishing "Jaded" this week, so I suppose I'll have more time for this. But I'm still too lazy to create names for chapters. :-P

Anyway, to end my unusually long ramble, read, review and tell me what you think.

Oh yeah… I don't own anything and you know it. If I did, I suppose I'd have Erik Punjab Raoul and marry Christine in the first chapter. So no, all belongs to the three geniuses: Gaston Leroux, Susan Kay and Andrew Lloyd Weber. God Bless them all.

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Chapter I

X X X X

"Christine!"

The thirteen-year-old brunette barely had time to turn around before a mass of silky dark hair and giggles was upon her, hugging her tightly. She smiled – it was good to see Luciana in a better mood. She had not seen her cousin for three years and was afraid that a stay with the nuns would depress such a bubbly creature all-too-easily. Her cousin was her exact counterpart.

Christine Daaé, an orphan for quite some time now, was born to a Swedish violinist and his half-French, half-Italian wife, who died almost directly after childbirth. Entrusted into the care of her uncle, the child was sent to the Parisian Musical Conservatoire, already showing much promise with her crystal clear soprano voice. With her shy politeness, angelic appearance and kind heart, she was the opposite of the brash and impulsive Luciana, who had always gotten exactly what she wanted. Christine knew what struggle meant, she remembered the fear after her father passed away – fear of becoming a street urchin. Her uncle, however, accepted her as he would accept another child, with all the love and caring she would have received from her own father.

But, knowing that his youngest daughter and Christine's favorite cousin wasn't getting along with his… apprentice?… Giovanni decided that it would be best to bring Christine to Rome for the holidays, if only to ease the tension in the house. Luciana adored Christine, often wishing she could also sing so beautifully. The young girl would at least be a distraction, if nothing else, and he had already promised her that she would see Rome soon.

Hopefully, Luciana's obsession with Christine would rival her other obsession, which also had a name. Though unsure what this pale-skinned princess would bring to the house with her, Giovanni watched with a smile as his niece finally untangled herself from his daughter's embrace.

"Uncle!" She noticed him at the door. With a light laugh and her signature smile, she ran to him, landing in his embrace.

"Piccola Principessa Christiana!" he chuckled at the sound of her giggles, "How you have grown, child! How you have grown. You seem so much happier than when I last saw you." Indeed, she was much happier now. No longer timid, the little lady was as bright as the afternoon sun.

"Yes!" she beamed, "I get to visit you, see Rome and my teachers give me the lead role in this year's ending play! It was so wonderful!" She walked gracefully into the house, Luciana hot on her tail.

"Oh, Papa! You didn't tell me Christine was coming!" Luciana mimicked a sulk, but couldn't hold the act for long, "You didn't tell me!"

"I wanted to surprise you, Luciana." Giovanni said, smiling at his daughter's sudden change of behavior. The spoiled brat was gone… the part of Luciana he loved was back. For how long, though?

"That you did!" she laughed.

"I hope you're not too upset, Luciana." Christine noted, smiling shyly, "I also wanted to surprise you, otherwise I would have written to you."

"How can I be mad at you! I haven't seen you in ages! But you were talking about a play – tell me about it! Tell me what play it was, who you were playing, what were you wearing – everything!"

"Child, Christine is probably tired – the journey was long and…"

"Oh, Papa, I simply wish to know!"

Bowing her head with a smile – her cousin hadn't changed one bit – Christine answered: "It was just a student play, but the opera we have chosen was wonderful. The name Hannibal probably doesn't mean much to you?"

Luciana shook her head. "Historical?"

"Ancient Rome and Carthage."

The Italian girl shook her head again, "History makes my head ache."

"Surely you are familiar with at least part of your country's history."

While Luciana tried (and failed) to resist the urge to roll her eyes, Giovanni patted Christine's shoulder, an obvious sign that she should continue with the story, rather than wasting her precious energy on educating a stubborn child. Despite both being thirteen, despite the fact Christine was the quiet one, it was she who was the mature one, who loved arts and history above all else. She was well educated in both, despite being a girl – Giovanni saw to that when he noticed the eagerness in her eyes when he spoke of his work in Rome.

With a nod, Christine continued. "Well, anyway, I played Elissa, Queen of Carthage – Hannibal's lover."

At the mention of love, Luciana squealed. "Wonderful! It has a happy ending, the play, right?"

A smile. "That depends on your point of view."

"And what did you wear? Crinolines? Corsets? And silk? Surely a queen must have the most expensive gowns…"

On and on Luciana rambled, even as Christine's driver brought her luggage inside and Giovanni paid him, even as the three of them sat down for supper. She didn't eat and hardly allowed Christine to eat anything, always asking questions. But they were good-natured and the Swedish girl couldn't resist answering.

Giovanni only watched, silent. Indeed, bringing Miss Daaé here was a good move. Luciana had completely forgotten that there was another in the house, completely forgotten about their childish (at least for her part) squabbles.

He hadn't seen his daughter so content for at least a year.

Then, when it seemed there were no more details of her cousin's life hidden from her, Luciana spoke up again. "Why don't you sing us a song, Christine?"

She seemed uncertain. "Luciana, you can't just start singing like that," she snapped her fingers, "You have to have at least ten minutes worth of practicing scales before you can even sing one word. My voice would sound terrible."

"Your voice never sounds terrible!" Luciana insisted, "If I could sing half as well as you do, I would be the happiest girl in Rome!"

"But the pitch…"

"Please, Christine?" Puppy-dog eyes of an eager child were hard to resist. "Please? I would like to hear something from Hannibal. You said yourself that I know little of history! Teach me, then, at least like this!"

Without any idea how to object to that begging, she glanced at Giovanni, completely helpless. He shrugged, "Your voice is flawless, Christine. I would be delighted to hear you sing." He was supported by his daughter's frantic nod.

Resigning, Christine sighed and nodded, to her cousin's great delight. She stood up from the table and walked to the center of the room, straightening up. She chose her favorite song from Hannibal – one of Elissa's solos – and took a few deep breaths, humming for a moment before opening her mouth to sing the first notes.

Think of me

Think of me fondly

When we've said goodbye

Remember me

Once in a while

Please promise me you'll try

When you find

That once again you long

To take your heart back and be free

If you ever find a moment

Spare a thought for me

She could almost hear the music in her head as she waited for her time to sing again. If there was anything more beautiful in the world than singing, Christine didn't know what it was. The very release of her soul – that was what singing was to her. She pirouetted, eyes closed, arms outstretched, as the music in her mind reached the point she was supposed to start again.

We never said

our love was evergreen

or as unchanging as the sea

But if you can still remember

Stop and think of me

The change of the melody didn't frighten her.

Think of all the things we've shared and seen

Don't think about the way things might've been

Think of me

Think of me waking

silent and resigned

Imagine me

trying too hard

to put you from my mind

Recall those days

Look back on all those times

Think of the things we'll never do

There will never be a day

when I won't think of you!

She was supposed to wait after that, but it was just a few verses and the pause was quite long, so decided she could skip part of the music and returned to the melody in the "our love was evergreen" part, singing the final part of the song.

Flowers fade

The fruits of summer fade

They have their seasons

so do we

But please promise me that sometimes

you will think…

Coloratura, as hard as it was, was also one of her favorite parts. She could sing like a songbird – no words, no meaning, simply emotion. And then, the final deep breath came.

Of me!

Even though it was only Giovanni and Luciana clapping, even a standing ovation of an entire Opera house couldn't please Christine more.

"You see! You see!" Luciana squealed, "You were perfect!" Christine laughed, shaking her head. She was far from perfect, but was happy anyway. "Sing some more!"

Thinking for a moment, Christine decided that only Giovanni would probably be able to see she was singing the lines of the chorus as well, but the scene when Elissa greets Hannibal and his army was the first thing that came to her mind.

With a deep breath, she began again.

This trophy from our saviors, from the enslaving force of Rome!

With feasting and dancing and song

Tonight in celebration

We greet the victorious throng

Returned to bring salvation!

The trumpets of Carthage resound!
Hear, Romans, now and tremble!

Hark to our steps to the ground!

Hear the drums – Hannibal comes!

She skipped Hannibal´s lines – there were few and singing tenor seemed silly to her. Instead, she went right to the end of the ballet that was supposed to take place in-between.

Bid welcome to Hannibal´s guests –

The elephants of Carthage!

As guides on our conquering quests,

Dido sends

Hannibal´s friends!

And finally, she sung her own lines, raising her gaze, as she would on stage, since Hannibal was now supposed to be on the back of an elephant.

Once more to my

Welcoming arms

My love returns

In splendor!

She wanted to stop just there. She was going to stop just there, ignoring the fact that the verse was unfinished, because Hannibal was supposed to sing the second part. It was perhaps unfair to her audience, but singing tenor AND singing a dialogue with herself would be downright ridiculous.

She would have stopped.

Once more to those

Sweetest of charms

My heart and soul

Surrender.

Was her imagination really so vivid that when she imagined the stage, the costumes, the music, she could imagine another's voice? She could… but even her imagination wasn't hyperactive enough to imagine that voice. It wouldn't dare. The voice she heard was too… unearthly, ethereal… divine to ever enter her mind in real life. She could only dream of hearing angels.

She continued the lines of the chorus. And as she sang, she knew it was now a duet.

The trumpeting elephants sound –

Hear, Romans, now and tremble!

Hark to their steps on the ground –

Hear the drums!

Hannibal comes!

Finally, the song ended. Oblivious to the surprise of both Giovanni and Luciana – a surprise of a different kind than her own – she turned around to face the source of the voice which she now knew wasn't merely her imagination.

To some relief and some disappointment, she saw no angel. Yet she bowed her head to the masked boy respectfully, unsure what to say.