Her jaw dropped as she saw just how huge the Opera Populaire really was. Doubt began to whirl through her mind, but Ella shoved them aside and forced herself to continue walking towards the massive building. Now that she had nowhere else to go, she knew she was lucky they were willing to take her in as a dancer.
"Can I help you?" a voice asked as she walked through the door. Turning, she saw one of the many staff members cleaning the grand entryway before tonight's performance.
"I...I'm supposed to find Madame Giry," Ella stammered. "I'm supposed to start dancing here."
"Up those stairs, to the left, and into the theater," he directed, seemingly bored with their exchange already. "Rehearsals are nearly finished, you can speak with her then, but if you interrupt, the managers will have you out of here before you can say 'Opera Ghost'."
Ella nodded her thanks before taking off in the direction he had pointed. True to his word, the cast was onstage, holding what appeared to be the final note in a song. The second the song ended, everyone scattered in a thousand different directions. Taking in a deep breath, Ella headed towards the cluster of ballerinas.
"Pardon me," she whispered, but the chatter of the dancers drowned out her voice. "Excuse me?" Ella sighed as they continued to ignore her. "I'm looking for Madame Giry." Without a single girl noticing she was there, the herd began to walk away, leaving her standing there.
"Eleanor LeFontelle?" A strict-looking woman dressed in black was approaching her. The air of authority surrounding her made Ella realize this wasn't someone to mess with.
"That would be me. So you think you have the skills to become a dancer for the Opera Populaire?"
"Even if not, I'll to do whatever it takes to learn," Ella replied honestly.
Her response seemed to please the ballet mistress. "Good. Theater is one part skill, one part luck, and one part willing to learn, and not everyone is able to grasp that. Come with me, I'll show you to the dormitories and to your new dressing room."
The grandeur of the opera house kept Ella in awe. Everything was just so splendid and ornate, Ella felt like she didn't belong. After a time, Madame Giry gestured towards a door. "This will be your dressing room."
"Oh my." The room was tastefully decorated and so beautiful, it took her breath away. "All this, just for a simple dancer?"
"If you think this is a lot, you should see the prima donna's," Madame Giry said with smile.
"That'll never happen. I'm no prima donna. I'm just grateful to be a part of the chorus even."
"You never know what'll happen. Maybe someday you will be a star."
Ella knew better than to argue. "Can we see the dormitories now?"
"Of course, follow me." Madame Giry led her back to another part of the opera house. "The dormitories are right this way. Now starting tomorrow, you'll practice with everyone else. Breakfast is at seven, rehearsals start at nine o'clock sharp. Lateness isn't tolerated."
The door swung open at Madame Giry's touch. Immediately the room fell silent. Ella could feel heat rush to her cheeks as all the girls stared at her. "Ladies, this is Eleanor. She is the newest dancer here." One of the dancers, about her own age walked up to them. "Eleanor, this is my daughter Meg. She's the head ballerina; she'll help you get used to everything."
The blonde girl smiled. "I'd be glad too."
"Well, I'll leave you to get settled in," Madame Giry said before walking out.
"So Eleanor, what brings you to our little theater?" Meg asked.
"It's Ella actually," she replied quietly. "And I guess I'm here because I really didn't have anywhere else to go."
"Oh you poor thing," Meg said, wrapping what was supposed to be a comforting arm around Ella's shoulder, but all she really wanted was to be out of the spotlight. "You're not the first, but I promise you, you're going to love it here."
"Just beware the Phantom of the Opera," another girl, who appeared to be just a bit older than Ella, added. She had dramatic dark hair, blue eyes filled with mischief, and a fiendish smile on her face.
"Wha…what do you mean?" Ella stuttered.
"Oh you mean no one's bothered to tell you?" she asked, with a toss of her curls. "He lives far beneath the Opera House, his face so deformed he's more monster than man. He terrorizes the theater when someone displeases him, anywhere from little 'accidents' to downright catastrophes. In one night alone, he murdered our star tenor, dropped the chandelier on a full house and set this place on fire. And of course we all remember what happened to Christine."
The temperature in the room seemed to drop ten degrees. Every single dancer seemed frightened. "What happened?" Ella whispered.
"Apparently the Phantom had taken a fancy to her and taught her to sing. He demanded that she star in all the performances, and he sabotaged every single one our old prima donna, La Carlotta, had the lead in. And when Christine got engaged to the Vicomte de Chagny, it set him over the edge. Eventually, he forced the managers to produce an opera he had written, with her as the lead. As it started, he murder the tenor Piangi and took his place. Halfway through the performance, Christine pulled off his mask, so he used the chandelier as a distraction so he could drag her down to his lair and keep her prisoner forever."
"You're full of it," Meg interrupted. "You know full well that Christine and Raoul are very happily married out in the countryside."
"But he still leaves notes from time to time, every single one followed down to the letter because the managers can't afford to incur the wrath of the mighty Opera Ghost."
"So he just leaves everything alone now?" Ella asked.
Meg nodded. "Pretty much. He sometimes has some comments or criticism about a production, but they're always immediately put into effect and nothing major has happened since then."
"Good," she said with a sigh of relief.
"You aren't nervous?" the other girl asked, her head cocked at a slight angle. "I mean, after all, I wouldn't want that room."
"What are you talking about?"
"Christine Daae's dressing room of course. It's been sitting unused since that night for fear of upsetting the Phantom. Until now. All the others are in use, which means it was the only one available for you to have. For all we know, you're next."
"Jacqueline, that's enough!" Meg snapped. "It's the girl's first night here and you're already scaring her out of her wits!"
"I'm sorry." The glint in her eyes told Ella she was anything but. "I just wanted her to be aware of what she was getting herself into."
Meg rolled her eyes. "Don't mind her. She likes to cause trouble. You have nothing to worry about. But you've had a long day, you're probably exhausted."
"Yes, I would like to get some sleep if you don't mind," Ella said, happy to get off the subject of the Phantom.
Later that night, as the other girls slept soundly, Ella stared at the ceiling, wondering what on earth she had gotten herself into.