This story is based on Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical and Joel Schumacher's movie, with some elements from Gaston Leroux's novel.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Leroux's/ALW's characters and the original plot. Some of the characters are mine.
CHAPTER 1: The Answer Is No
It was at the end of January, the coldest and gloomiest of all months. One month had passed since the glorious masked ball, such a sensation in Paris. But all of Paris, even the poor who could only dream of attending such a grand ball, knew that it ended badly. Every newspaper in France screamed to the sky:
The Phantom of the Opera strikes again! The aspiring diva, Miss Christine Daaé, in the middle of the strange affair! Is this an intricately designed plot to supplant the great La Carlotta from her place? La Carlotta and her friends swear that Christine Daaé is plotting against her with a man who calls himself the Opera Ghost! Who is this man? What is the truth behind Miss Daaé and her mysterious companion?
One would think that after a month, the rumours would die, that the interest in this matter would fade away. But that was, unfortunately, not so. Far from it. With every passing day, the interest in the Opera Ghost and his young, beautiful protégée grew stronger, to the point of becoming the imminent topic of every conversation. Journalists harassed the young diva Daaé, asking her annoying questions, terrible questions, intimate question, accusing questions! The poor girl was completely beside herself. She was completely lost and sometimes she truly believed that she was becoming mad, ripe enough to be locked in an asylum. Luckily, her betrothed was always by her side, comforting her, whispering soothing words of love and devotion into her distressed ears. But even he turned against her, or so it seemed to Christine, for on this particular day, he addressed her, the managers and all other artists working in the opera house.
They gathered on the stage. La Carlotta came late, followed by her friend, the leading tenor Ubaldo Piangi. She eyed Christine scathingly, sat down in a nearby chair, the abundance of her richly decorated skirts spreading on the floor around her, making her look like a majestic, victorious queen. She eyed Christine again and huffed in annoyance, looking for support in Ubaldo Piangi, who raised his chin and looked away. Christine bowed her head in shame. She knew all eyes were focused on her. She felt their gazes burn her skin like fire. Her cheeks were normally as pale as ivory or alabaster, but this time, they were almost as white as snow from all the anxieties she had been feeling lately. She wished to weep, to cry, to be forgotten and alone. But they would not let her be. Even Raoul would not let her be.
"We are gathered here," Raoul began to speak, "because Madame Giry received another letter from the Opera Ghost. I shall read it to you. You must know its contents because it concerns you all. Then, I will tell you about the plan Messieurs Firmin and Andre, and I, have formed."
Raoul unfolded the paper in his hands and read the words displayed before his eyes.
"Fondest greetings to you all! Just a few instructions before the first rehearsal starts. Carlotta must be taught to act, excluding completely her normal trick of strutting around the stage."
"What?" Carlotta screamed in outrage and stood up on her feet, as angry as ever, but the managers pleaded with her to let Monsieur de Chagny finish reading the letter. And so he did.
"Our Don Juan must lose some weight - it is not healthy in a man of Piangi's age. We must have our Don Juan look seductive and lithe, which signor Ubaldo is not - yet. And my managers must learn that their place is in their office, not the arts. As for Miss Christine Daaé, no doubt she shall do her best. It is true, her voice is good, she knows this. Though, should she wish to excel - she has much still to learn, if only her pride will let her return to me, her teacher. Your obedient friend, O.G."
Raoul folded the letter back to its original form and put it in his vest pocket. He looked at Christine, but her face was hidden behind the mass of curls pouring over her shoulders. He could see, though, that her shoulders were trembling. She was crying, assuredly. But he had to do this. He had to stop the Phantom's madness and save Christine from his grasp before she became completely lost and enthralled to the monster. He would break the venomous spell, whether Christine liked it or not. It was for her own good.
"Now," Raoul continued, "his opera, Don Juan Triumphant, is the perfect opportunity for us to ensnare our clever friend, Monsieur Opera Ghost. We shall play his game. We shall perform his work. But remember! We hold the ace, for if Miss Daaé sings, he is certain to attend. The gendarmes will make certain that all doors will be barred. They shall be armed. And when the curtain falls, his reign will end."
Christine remained silent and withdrawn. She budged a little, but only so much that Raoul could make sure she did not become a statue. All others were listening to the viscount's words intently, so no one noticed the arrival of Madame Giry. She had come when Raoul read the letter and now, she was the first to express a reaction to his plan. She stepped forth and exclaimed,
"This is madness!"
All gasped, surprised by her reaction, frowning excessively.
"I am not so sure about that," Monsieur Andre offered a reply.
Firmin took a music sheet in his hands, stepped to the still Christine and woke her from her strange state of mind by thrusting the music sheet in her hands.
"Not if the plan works, and it will work, because Miss Daaé will help us catch this fiend. The tide will turn! He shall be at the receiving end now."
Christine shuddered, her face a mixture of horror and despair, and took a step back. Madame Giry shook her head.
"Monsieur, believe me, there is no way of turning the tide."
"You stick to ballet!" Monsieur Firmin shouted at the ballet mistress. "Do you know that yesterday, the Opera Ghost, this monster, tried to kill Monsieur le Vicomte with his sword? At the cemetery! The man is clearly mad."
"You will not catch him," Madame Giry repeated indifferently.
"Are you on his side?" Firmin said and cornered Madame Giry. "Do you know him, Madame? Shall I send for the gendarmes now to arrest you?"
"How dare you!" Madame Giry spat and slapped Monsieur Firmin across the cheek. Then, she turned on her heels and left the stage. Richard Firmin was enraged.
"You are fired!" he shouted after Madame Giry while caressing his smarting cheek. "Fired!"
"Monsieur, please," Raoul tried, but then, Carlotta walked to them and pointed her index finger at Christine.
"She's the one behind this! Christine Daaé! This is all her doing!" Carlotta snarled.
Piangi chimed in. "Yes! This is the truth! She is connected to the fiend."
"Yes," Carlotta continued, "I am no fool. You are behind this. You may have a sweet, innocent face, Daaé, but you are corrupted, you are."
"Please," Christine whispered, pleading for help. She pressed the music sheet against her chest and tears started crawling down her pallid cheeks.
"What glory can you hope to gain, huh?" Carlotta was relentless. "It is clear you are insane! And you can't sing!"
"You will stop insulting my betrothed, do you hear me?" Raoul cried and turned to La Carlotta.
She chuckled in irony. "What, Monsieur le Vicomte? Do you truly believe in her innocence? Well, I pity you, for I am sure she lost her innocence with her accomplice, the Opera Ghost."
Christine gasped in shock and strode to La Carlotta, this time less distressed, but truly furious.
"How dare you..." Christine snarled. "How dare you, you evil woman? Why do you hate me so? I have never wronged you. I have been pulled into this horrible situation against my liking! Can you not see that? Must you insult me?"
She sobbed and turned her back to the diva. She could not bear to look in La Carlotta's face for a longer period of time. Carlotta simply huffed again and addressed the managers.
"You know where to find me," she said bitterly and disappeared from the stage with her entourage.
"Miss Daaé," Firmin began sweetly, smiling widely, "surely, you will sing. It is for all our sakes. Do you not wish to be free at last? And if you help us, I promise you that you will have a safe position of the leading soprano in this opera house. Always."
Christine shook her head desperately, fighting with tears bravely. "I thank you for your tempting offer, but I shall have to pass it. I cannot do it, Monsieur Firmin."
"Christine, they can't make you sing," Raoul tried to comfort her. "But Christine, think."
"Yes, Miss Daaé," Giles Andre agreed, "not only you would help us all, but also, I tell you, this is your duty. You have a duty, Miss Daae!"
"I cannot sing his opera, duty or not. I cannot do this," Christine replied firmly, her face blank.
"But why?" all three man asked.
"You cannot understand, and I do not blame you for that," Christine spoke silently. She looked at Raoul. "Raoul, please, I need your support."
"For pity's sake, Miss Daaé!" Firmin shouted. "You have to sing! Are you blind? Why on Earth are you protecting the fiend?"
"She said no," Raoul said.
"Well, make her say yes!" Firmin shouted again.
"I will try to convince her, but give me time. This situation is not very easy for her. She is nervous and tired. Let her be for a few moments."
"But you will convince her, non?"
"Yes, I will."
The men discussed Christine as if she had not been present. She stared at them in shock, not knowing what to do. She meant so little to them, to Raoul? Would he sacrifice her like a lamb to achieve their objective? Had she not tried to tell him herself why she could not do it? Her relationship with the Phantom was complicated, but she did care for him. She could not betray him. The men's voices grew louder, they began to argue. As the voices were rising in volume, so did Christine's anxiety and desperation grow stronger. She could not take it anymore, could not take it anymore! She threw the music sheet to the floor passionately and burst through the hubbub with a great cry.
"If you don't stop, I'll go mad!"
She nearly collapsed to her knees, weak from all the agony, but Raoul caught her in his arms in time and sat her down on a nearby chair.
"Christine, are you alright?" he asked her worriedly. The managers walked to the chair and observed her with concern. She did not heed their questions about how she was fairing. Her goal was to put sense in their minds. She looked at Raoul pleadingly, clutching him by his neatly arranged collar.
"Raoul, I am frightened. Do not make me do this. It scares me. Do not put me through this ordeal by fire!" she spoke hoarsely.
The fear she spoke of was evident in her widened eyes. "Raoul, please..." she continued, a stream of flowing crystals making its way down her delicate cheeks. "He will take me, I know, and we will be parted forever. For perpetuity! He will not let me go."
Her next words were spoken with a shaky bitterness. "Oh, Raoul, what I once used to dream, I now dread. If he finds me, it won't ever end. And he will always be there, singing songs in my head..."
Raoul embraced her gently. "Singing songs in my head..." she whispered against his vest, wetting the expensive material with her silent tears. "Always..."
Raoul made her look into his eyes. He caressed her cheeks tenderly. "I love you, Lotte. Do not think that I do not care. But you said yourself he was nothing but a man, like me. Yet, while he lives, love," he said firmly and kissed the knuckles on the backs of her hands, "he will haunt us till we are all dead."
Complete silence enveloped the stage for a few brief moments. All three men waited for Christine's response. She bowed her head sadly and smiled to herself. It was a bitter smile, conveying her feelings of being confined in a hopeless situation.
"Twisted every way..." she whispered. Then, she looked at Raoul again. "What answer can I give? Am I to risk my life...to win the chance to live?"
She slowly stood up and looked up into the scaffolding. She touched her chest where her heart lay. "Can I betray the man who once inspired my voice? Or do I become his prey? It seems you give me no choice...I know, he kills without a thought, he murders all that is good...I know, I cannot refuse, and yet, I wish I could."
Raoul walked to her and touched her shoulders. "Christine?"
"Oh, God," she whispered and entwined her fingers in silent prayer, "if I agree, what horrors wait for me, in his opera?"
She leaned against Raoul and he helped her back to the chair.
"What is your response, Miss Daaé?" Monsieur Andre asked carefully. He felt sorry for the girl, but no one had a choice. She closed her eyes, trying to forget the nightmare forming around her.
Raoul tried one last time. "Christine, again, I ask you, do not think that I don't care. But, every hope and every prayer rests on you. What is your choice?"
She knelt on the ground and collected the scattered sheets of paper, her copy of Don Juan Triumphant. A pleased smile spread over Firmin's face, but just then, Christine did something unexpected. She tore the music sheet in half, stood up on her feet and threw the now useless paper in the men's faces.
"My answer is no!"
She ignored their pleas, their shocked faces, knowing fully well that this was not the end, that they would follow her and harass her until they had convinced her to help them catch the Phantom.
"Now, leave me be. I need some time to think."
She left the men, all three of them gaping after her. They had just met a Christine Daaé no one knew lived inside this girl.