"Mia," Raoul groaned. "Surely you realize what a horrible idea this is! I don't know what on earth you were thinking when you decided to become the patron of the Populaire."

"It wasn't my idea," she reminded him. "It was Gaston's. He thought it was a good business deal, and I don't disagree. With all this free publicity, the Populaire will be, pardon the pun, more popular than ever!"

"That madman nearly killed me!" Raoul shouted.

"Raoul," Mia sighed. "You're my darling baby brother, but you've always had a flair for the dramatics, and I've learned to take every single word you ever say with a grain of salt. You've always liked to exaggerate. If you weren't Vicomte, I could honestly see you becoming an actor. No wonder you married Christine."

"I am not exaggerating," he protested. "That opera house is dangerous!"

"Nothing is dangerous about the Populaire, Raoul," she said with exasperation. "I've been there myself. I have seen no sign of your so called 'Phantom'. There were no horribly disfigured men lurking about in the shadows, no hypnotic angels, no nothing. My guess is that one of your precious Christine's former 'gentlemen callers' got jealous and this is your attempt at hiding the truth."

"How dare you speak of Christine in such a manner!"

"You know what she is! She's in show business, and she's attempting to become a star. Do you know what women do in order for a few minutes in spotlight? She's beneath you, and frankly, she's not worth it, Raoul."

Her brother crossed his arms. "I married Christine for love, which is more than you can say about your marriage to Gaston," he snapped.

Mia recoiled from her brother's accusation, but she shook it off. "I know my place Raoul! I married Gaston because he is a wealthy, respectable man, someone who I was expected to marry," she fired back. "Not someone our parents would be embarrassed of."

"So it's my fault that I married someone I loved?"

"Love and happiness aren't everything Raoul!" Mia cried. "Love means nothing We are de Chagnys Raoul. There are expectations, requirements, pressures to be perfect, and we have to deliver."

"No, no we don't," he answered. "Mia, their expectations mean nothing. Who cares what everyone else thinks?"

"I do!"

Raoul sighed. "I don't need your approval, or Mother and Father's, or anyone else's for that matter! Christine and I are happy together and that's all that matters."

"Then you go be happy with her." Mia turned away. "But Gaston has made his decision, and I'm going to support him. I'm not frightened of your stories, because that's all they are: stories."

"Mia, I'm just trying to protect you."

"Who's the older one?" Raoul started to protest, but Mia cut him off. "That's right, me. Which means I don't need you trying to run my life."

"I'm not trying to…"

"Yes you are."

Raoul shook his head. "Whatever happened to you Mia? You never used to be like this."

She turned her back on him. "My decision has been made. Go back home to your theater harlot. I'm already late. I was supposed to meet Gaston at the theater ten minutes ago." Raoul stared at her for a moment, clearly hurt before storming past her and out the door. Mia kept her face expressionless as she watched him leave.

"So that's him?" Erik asked as he leaned over the edge of the balcony of Box Five to catch a glimpse of new patron. He spotted an unimpressive looking copper haired man. "What's his name?"

"Yes Erik, that's him. Gaston Barineau," Madame Giry replied. "Try not to cause trouble with this one. The managers had an indescribably hard time finding a replacement for the Vicomte."

"He doesn't look like much," Erik commented. "But I suppose as long as he doesn't interfere, I'll leave him alone."

"You'd better," Madame Giry answered. "Because if you screw this up again, then this could very well be the end of the Populaire."

"Do you honestly think that I don't realize that?" Erik growled. "I made one mistake and suddenly it's unforgivable."

"That's because it is!" Madam Giry cried. "You nearly destroyed this place Erik! You fall for a girl you knew you couldn't have and you were still lovesick and stupid enough to pursue her. Do you know how much chaos you caused, how many people you nearly put out of a job? You're lucky that the fire didn't spread further and the damage was repairable."

"I KNOW!" Erik roared. He exhaled slowly and forced his temper back under control. "I know. But I've learned my lesson. No one will ever be able to love the monster. I understand that now."

"Erik, that's not what I meant," Madame Giry said softly. "Someday you'll find love, but kidnapping, threats, and murder isn't the way to go about it."

"No one will ever love me," he said sadly. "I had been Christine's angel since she was seven years old and she still fled from the sight of me. I will never be able to build a bond like that with anyone again. I'm just doomed to be alone forever."

Madame Giry checked the time. "I have to go. Auditions for Prima Donna and lead tenor are starting soon and I'm expected to be there."

"I thought they were going to invite Christine back."

"They did, but naturally she declined. You scared her senseless Erik. And my guess is, whether she wanted to return or not, her husband the Vicomte forbade it."

"Don't bring him up," Erik hissed.

"You asked," Madame Giry reminded him. "Now I have to get down there. Try not to cause too much trouble Erik." He nodded and after she left, he settled into a chair to watch the auditions. After all, he had to make sure they didn't wind up with another Carlotta.

As the auditions began, Erik spotted a lone woman slip in late. Something seemed familiar about her, so he leaned forward, trying to get a better look. His blood began to boil. She looked so much like the Vicomte de Chagny, it wasn't even funny. She had the same sandy blonde hair, the same blue eyes, and even her facial features were similar. Whoever she was, she would not be staying long. Not only did she look too much like the Vicomte, she was late to auditions, and if that wasn't more than enough justification to not give her a position, Erik didn't know what was.

But to his surprise, the girl didn't sit with the other hopefuls who had yet to perform. Instead she walked over to the managers like she owned the place. "No," he whispered as she sat beside patron and kissed his cheek. Surely this girl, the one who looked so much like the man who ruined his life, was not going to stay.

Erik had to know who she was. He snuck out of Box Five and made his way to where they were sitting. Remaining in the shadows, he moved close enough to where he could hear what they were saying without being seen. "What do you think, Amelia?" he could hear the patron ask her as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

"I've heard better," she replied. Well at least she has some semblance of an ear, Erik thought. The girl who was auditioning right now wasn't terrible, just mediocre.

"What I wouldn't give to have Miss Daaé back," Firmin sighed.

"Madame de Chagny," Andre corrected. He glanced over at the woman. "Perhaps Madame Barineau, you could…"

"No," she replied. "My sister-in-law had no desire to return, and even if she did, I highly doubt my brother would allow it. He seems to believe you have a ghost wandering inside of your walls."

The two managers exchanged a glance. "The Opera Ghost as the some of the more superstitious members of the staff call him, is nothing more than a story, an imaginary figure to blame their own mistakes on. It's just a story," Firmin assured her.

"Well that explains a lot," she said, rolling her eyes. "Raoul's always had this thing with stories. He could've been an actor if he weren't a Vicomte." Not here, he wouldn't, Erik thought viciously.

"I can assure you, Madame," Andre continued. "There is nothing you need to worry about."

Oh but there is. Erik stared at the woman with renewed interest. If that was the sister of the Vicomte, he had a new target to focus his rage on. He knew that the boy was smart enough to stay far, far away from here, but this girl was stupid enough to waltz right on in. Just because he couldn't have his revenge on the Vicomte directly didn't mean the girl was safe. In fact, it meant just the opposite.