"He's here! The Phantom of the Opera!" Young Meg Giry's voice echoed through the theater, as the chorus girls all huddled together in fear. Andre and Firmin, the current managers of the Opera Populaire, pushed through the heard of girls to centre stage, where Carlotta was obviously overdramatizing the extent of any and all injuries she had just received. "Signora!" Andre exclaimed as he and Firmin rushed to help the prima donna to her feet "We must apologize, but these things do happen!" Carlotta shoved the managers away in a rage "These… things have happened to me twice this month!" her shrill screech cut through the chorus girls' gossiping, putting all eyes and ears on the diva. The stagehands quickly rushed to put the fallen scenery back in place, just as Joseph Buquet staggered on stage. "You!" Carlotta shouted, pointing a finger at Buquet's chest "Is this your doing?" she demanded, half hoping that it was. Buquet gave her a dark look "I think we all know who it was" he grimaced, in the voice he used when he scared the girls with stories of the Phantom.
Carlotta took a small step back, a small glisten of fear in her eyes. But her fright was quickly replaced with her usual abrasiveness "I will not sing until you two figure out what to do about him" she said, glaring at the managers. She stormed off of the stage, Piangi at her heels, and Andre and Firmin chasing after the pair, shouting apologies and begging that Carlotta stay. There was a buzz of indistinct chatter among those who remained on stage, before Madame Giry rapped her cane on the ground, bringing all conversations to a halt. "Ladies," she began with a cold calmness "Are we not dancers?" The ballerinas all rushed in to their positions, every single one of them wearing a look of uncertainty on their faces. The pianist began to play a piece from Faust, and the girls moved gracefully to the music, as Madame Giry stalking across the stage, occasionally shouting corrections. Only one of the chorus girls noticed the man dressed completely in black, save for the white mask, watching the whole ordeal from the rafters.
Charlotte smiled to herself, knowing he was watching her – and Christine Daae, of course. He always watched the rehearsals, whether he planned upon ruining them or not. The dance dragged on slowly until the song ended with a cadence, and the dancers waited patiently for Madame Giry's criticism. "Your arabesques are sloppy, and your legs need to be far more straight" she tapped her cane on one the front most girl's legs to emphasize her point. "Practice, for we only have two rehearsals left before the opera" and with that, the older woman strode offstage. The dancers clumped together, as they did after every rehearsal, and made their way to the dressing rooms. "I don't understand why she's so strict" Christine said, pulling bobby pins from her hair. Meg sighed "Mother's always been this way – well, when it comes to dancing anyways" They all piled in to the mirror covered room, brushing knots from their hair and changing from their colourful ballet costumes.
"Can you believe the Phantom sabotaged La Carlotta again?" Meg whispered across the dressing room table, as though afraid her mother - or someone worse - may hear. "Yes actually. She acts like such a…prima donna" Charlotte said, wiping her makeup off with a tissue. Christine laughed "I wonder why that would be" "Oh, you know what I mean" Charlotte said, rolling her eyes. "Do you think the Phantom actually looks how Buquet describes him? That he's that grotesque?" Christine asked with a curious expression. Charlotte looked at her reflection in the mirror "I'm not sure. But then again, our source of information is the drunkard scene shifter" Meg looked around the room, before finally setting her gaze on the clock at the dresser "Oh, look at what time it is! I had no idea we'd been rehearsing all day!" Meg exclaimed. Charlotte nodded and stood "In which case, I should be heading home" she said, walking around the room and arranging her things "I don't understand why you don't just live here with the rest of us! It'd be so much more convenient for you" Christine said, trying vainly once again to convince Charlotte to board with the rest of the chorus girls. Charlotte smiled at her friend "Oh Christine! I live in Paris, it's really no big deal; there are girls from around the world who need to be staying here. "
Both Meg and Christine sighed, before saying goodbye to Charlotte, who made her way out of the dressing room and through the maze of hallways that the Opera House was comprised of. Charlotte arrived at the top of the dark, winding stone staircase, and looked around her quickly. Deciding no one was anywhere near her, she hurriedly descended into the blackness. At the bottom of the stairs was a winding labyrinth of pitch black stone corridors; nearly impossible to navigate unless one knew where they were going. She turned corner after corner, the air getting colder and denser as she neared the lake at the heart of the cellars. Moments later, the darkness was slightly broken by the ripples of the lake's surface. The small boat was still docked at the water's edge where Charlotte had left it that morning, meaning that he had used one of the secret passages to watch the rehearsal from the rafters instead of crossing the lake. She placed the pair of ballet shoes she had carried from the dressing room at the front of the boat, and then stepped into the boat herself, carefully distributing her weight in the center of the vessel. She pushed off of the concrete 'dock', using the long staff that served as an oar to navigate the walls and sharp corners that jutted out from the bottom of the lake to the low ceiling.
For a while, the only sound in the heavy silence was the movement of the boat through the water, until Charlotte came upon the lair. He was working on Don Juan Triumphant, his latest operatic masterpiece. Quipped, dissonant notes filled the air, with the occasional pause and flipping of paper. Charlotte steered the boat to the short staircase, carefully disembarking the boat with her ballet slippers in hand and stepping lightly up to the candle-lit room. It seemed the minute her feet touched the cold ground, Erik stopped everything he was doing; it wasn't a gradual silence, it was quick and immediate. "It's risky coming here from within the Opera House Charlotte" he said, standing slowly from his organ. She began to walk in his direction "No one saw me" she shrugged. "How can you be sure?" he asked, but not in a panicked tone whatsoever. "Because not everyone is as sneaky as you" Erik was wearing his mask, as per usual. Charlotte constantly told him he didn't need to wear it around her, but he never listened – it was almost a security he needed for himself.
She met him halfway across the room, in front of his desk, which was covered in dried red wax and scribbled-on papers. They stopped in front of each other, Charlotte placing her ballet shoes by the arm chair, reaching her left hand to touch his porcelain mask, and his hand instinctively flying up to grab hers. She looked at him reassuringly, and remembering that it was Charlotte, he let her take the mask off. At first, his face had been somewhat off-putting to her, but after living with him for so many years it didn't even faze her anymore. She sighed, looking at the deformed side of his face, which was bleeding slightly in some places "I told you, if you wear the mask for too long, it'll irritate your skin…" "It's not like I have many options, do I?" Erik mumbled. Charlotte rolled her eyes and disappeared in to the bathroom, returning with a bottle of salve in her hand. She pushed the bottle into his palm, and gave him a friendly kiss on the cheek, brushing past him to the set of double doors that were set to the far right corner of the room. She pushed one of the oak doors open, softly pressing it shut behind her.
Charlotte's room was furnished similarly to the rest of Erik's home - with dark woods and golden paint. There was a four-poster bed, a wardrobe, a dresser and a desk, each littered with drawings and sketches on parchment paper – everything from roses, to candles, to the Opera House. She loved to draw; it gave her something to do in her (rather minimal) spare time… it was almost the same infatuation Erik had with his music, just not on such a high level. Charlotte fluffed her hair out and changed from her green cotton dress to her dark blue nightdress, before flopping back against the bed. She pushed a series of portraits off of the blanket, and crawled underneath the warmth it provided in the cold cellars. Outside of the thick door, she could hear the notes of Don Juan Triumphant, Erik playing them softer than usual to allow her to sleep. She blew out the candle that flickered on her desk, which was pushed next to her bed, and laid her head against the cool pillow, drifting off to sleep with Erik's voice singing songs in her head.