Title: Paying The Piper

Rating: M

Genre: Romance, Suspense, Psychological

Summary: It was a strange coincidence that their names mirrored that most interesting of Leroux novels, but it wasn't particularly noteworthy. Until a ghost started haunting the basement, that is. E/C Movie-Musical based, novel references.

Paying The Piper

Prologue: Paris, Winter of 1996

"You may have her this time, and perhaps the next time as well, but know this, boy: her soul belongs to me. You may appeal to her delicate sensibilities and her woman's heart, but I own the dark and primal shadows within her. Every lusting, every visceral desire is mine to savor, and you cannot even begin to plumb the depths of her that I hold squarely within my grasp. So I bid you good luck, m'sieur, in being her childhood sweetheart for as long and as often as you two may live because, sooner or later, she will tire of your puppy love and she will come looking for what she was too afraid to grasp this night."

Raoul de Changy woke in a cold sweat, the calm words pulsing through his mind like an indifferent poison. They had been spoken to him before, in the dead of many nights over the short course of his young life, but they never failed to trouble him. Who was this quietly certain man that warned him of nonsense? Who was the woman whose soul had already been claimed?

They were pretty deep questions for a fourteen year old to contemplate, and they had separated him time and again from other boys his age. While his peers worried about sports and studies, Raoul found himself concerned with riddles he had no way of solving.

"I trusted you as I trusted no other, Madame, and you betrayed that. I do not begrudge you your reasons; you were frightened for your peers, your family, and perhaps even for yourself. But I counted you rescuer and, if not friend, at least sympathetic ally; you, however, proved yourself to be otherwise. I understand, though, that your loyalties to her ran deeper than those to me and I, of all people, can forgive that, but it does not ease the ache. One day you will be called to answer for the role you played that night."

Madame Giry leaned against a wall in the narrow hallway and laid a hand atop her racing heart. She had been lost in thought, which was not uncommon these days, when the errant words had surged through her thoughts. It wasn't the first time, it probably wouldn't be the last, and it always instilled a cold fear deep in her heart.

With one last shaky breath, Madame Giry strengthened her resolve; she had no room for fear. It was hard enough for a widow to raise her own child, but to care and find homes for countless others? It was a monumental undertaking that required dedication and a keen sensitivity to the emotions of others. The problem was that young girls were prone to having a keen sensitivity to her own feelings and any fear on her part, regardless of the cause, would make them uneasy. She could not afford to give any sort of power to some strange flight of fancy; all the same, the thoughts were hard to banish.

Finally regaining her composure, Madame Giry straightened and continued her way down the hall. She had heard muffled giggling all the way from her room and, while she was glad that the girls could find things to be happy about, she would much prefer them to be happy when they weren't supposed to be sleeping. Opening the door to the girls' large common room revealed about a dozen faces; some, such as Little Jammes and her own Meg, were diligently pretending to be asleep while others, like Sorelli, barely bothered with the pretense but remained carefully silent. With a fond roll of her eyes the Madame decided to let them have their fun for tonight; she would task them for it with their studies tomorrow, but tonight belonged to them. She was about to close the door and let the girls get on with their silliness when she noticed something from the corner of her eye. One bed, off in the back by its own, did not hold a pretending-to-slumber girl, but rather a shadowy formation of pillows. It was a sad attempt at hiding an empty bed, but her darling little brats never failed to try it.

Christine Daae was missing again, Madame Giry noted with a sigh. Hopefully she was not far; it was tiring work for a middle-aged woman to go traipsing after young things in the dead of night.

The fact that she was not a happy nine-year old wandered through Christine's mind as she skittered through the darkest recesses of the basement. Her reasons for the dark and sullen attitude were two-fold; first and foremost was the fact that her beloved father had passed away, leaving her alone in the wide and terrifying world. Her second reason was also the selfsame one she was in the basement when she wanted nothing other than to be in her warm bed.

It had all started when Sorelli had gotten into the mood to tell ghost stories. It was widely known among all the girls that Sorelli was always the first to believe in any sort of haunting, but she was also the best at scaring all the others with tales of her beliefs. Christine had been fool enough to tell the older girl that her story of the haunted basement was not frightening in the least; her bold proclamation might not have resulted in any trouble at all if Little Jammes, who was always hassling the others, hadn't dared Christine to prove it by going down to the supposedly haunted area. Pride had demanded that she accept the challenge but… Well, it was one thing not to be afraid of a simple story, it was quite another not be afraid of a real ghost. Perhaps the ghost wasn't real, she tried to console herself. Christine frowned; she was never that lucky.

Madame Giry's home was not necessarily huge, but the basement always seemed disproportionately large anyway. Perhaps it was the fact that it was poorly lit that made the basement feel as though it stretched on forever, or perhaps it was the fact that it always felt as though she was being watched no matter where she went that made Christine feel so intensely uncomfortable. Whatever the reason, the young girl had absolutely no fondness for the unwelcoming storage area.

Something glimmered in the darkness, dancing erratically in front of her one moment and then gone the next. Christine shivered but kept moving forward, determined to reach the corner where the Madame kept an assortment of odd costumes. She would collect her "proof" and be quit of this ridiculous journey long before the dead would have a chance to get in her way.

A shadow swept past her in a dizzying move. The young girl squeezed her eyes shut, falling still in fright.

Then a voice split through the gloom, singing quietly and majestically, with all the brilliance of a fire on a frigid night. "Someday I want to run away, to the world of midnight." Christine opened her eyes. There was a piano just ahead of her, something that she had failed to notice earlier, and the shadowy figure of a man sat at the keyboard, playing his melancholy music. "Where nobody has a name, where living is not a game."

"Are you an angel, m'sieur?" Christine asked in hushed awe, interrupting his song. "Only an angel could sing so beautifully."

"An angel?" the man laughed, but the sound was harsh, almost bitter. "Never was an angel forced to suffer as I have."

She inched a few steps closer. "I don't know what you've been through, but I think all angels suffer, m'sieur."

Through the gloom she could see him quirk his head to the side. "Oh?" he asked curiously.

Christine nodded, though she wasn't sure if he could see her at all. "Yes, you see I used to think Papa was an angel, but then he died. Papa used to call me his Little Angel, but now I am all alone. Angels must suffer, m'sieur, so that everyone else may feel better about their own lives."

"You are a wise child, my angel," the man—ghost?—murmured, caressing a few stray notes out of the piano.

"Oh no, you shouldn't call me that, it will only make me suffer more!" the young girl said in a rush.

He laughed that hollow laugh again. "Perhaps, but angels cannot forsake their wings, Christine; we are both angels and therefore we must fly, despite the fact that we are doomed to suffer for it."

"You know my name," she marveled quietly, "but I don't know yours."

He hesitated, rustling quietly in the dark. "Erik," he finally answered, his voice sounding both fond and pained.

"Christine Daae!" her name pierced through the darkness in Madame Giry's granite tones and her hand was quickly captured by the older woman. "What on earth are you doing down here, child?"

Christine peered at Madame Giry questioningly. "I was talking to Erik," she answered, gesturing behind her.

Madame Giry looked around in confusion—or was that fear touching the other woman's eyes?—and shook her head. "There is no one else here, my girl," she said gently.

"What?" Christine turned around, but immediately noticed that her erstwhile companion was no longer at the piano.

"Come along," Madame Giry tugged at their linked hands, "this is no place for a young girl to be wandering alone at night."

Frowning, Christine let the Madame lead her, but glanced back every few steps to see if Erik had returned to the piano. "He sang like an angel," she murmured to herself.

Madame Giry stiffened, then began to hurry them both out of the basement. "There is no one else down here," she repeated, although Christine was no longer sure which one of them the older woman was trying to convince of that fact.

A/N: The underlying idea of this story, it must be said, was not my own. Part of it was inspired by the movie Drop Dead Fred, as many of my stories are (this does not mean, however, that the story particularly has anything to do with said movie, just that it served as a spring-board), but most of the basic idea came from my friend, D, who unfortunately never got around to writing it herself.

For basic reference, I thought I would mention again that this story is mostly based off the musical and its movie rendition, though I may take a few characters from the original Leroux novel. I doubt I'll mention anything from the Kay novel or from any of the older movie versions, but you never know when something might come it handy. Also, as you probably noticed this story is set in modern times, and I'm sure a few of you can already guess why.

To my Labyrinth readers: I can't express how sorry I am that I've been away for so long, and that I've broken my absence with a new story that isn't even in my usual fandom. (My other stories are not on hiatus; I am working on them as we speak.) Please understand though, I've been a phan longer than I've been a writer and, not to be too clichéd, I figured it was time to pay the piper.

A very large thank you goes out to my friend Metanaito for reading this over and telling me what could stand to be changed.

Please Review!

Disclaimer: All characters within belong to Webber, Schumacher, or Leroux; notably, Little Jammes and La Sorelli are exclusively from the Leroux. (Also, I have never been to Paris, I only see it through the pages of history books so, unless I note otherwise, just assume that I'm making everything up.) The song lyrics I used are from The World of Midnight, by Minako Obata.