A/N: So I thought I try my hand on some Phantom of the Opera fanfiction. Loved this book, show, and eventually movie as a child; now I mush it all together and work something out. Maybe.
I call this file a brain dump on my laptop. It's more or less an exercise in character development that turned into a story because the plot bunnies decided it was play time. That being said, it's a nice little side piece to work on when I have a moment. I can't promise regular updates, but I can promise semi-regular updates! (It's oddly satisfying to write an angst-filled story about the trials of getting over one obsession and not making the same mistakes again.)
I'll try to keep author's notes to a minimum. And I'll only be stating the disclaimer once. All that clutter don't look too good on sooper srz stories, if you know what I mean.
So! Disclaimer. I do not own anything about the Phantom of the Opera. 'kay? 'kay. I also do not officially own the picture I used for the cover. Credit for the wonderful photo goes to its rightful owner.
I've always found first chapters to be like pulling teeth. While I really wanted to introduce the whole how-does-the-original-cast-fit-in part, I found it seemed a bit too rushed. So I left it where it was. It'll come, in time, when I'm not staring at my computer going "WALL OF TEXT, WAT DO".
The fire at the Opera Populaire had almost left Catherine Lévesque homeless. Any fire in the city was dangerous if it spread rapidly. Even the slightest wind could blow a cinder into a nearby building and endanger the next block. Luckily, the fire was contained quickly, and Catherine had watched the men scurry about from her second story window. She was not lucky enough to live across the street – or even on the same street, for that matter – as the Opera Populaire, but from two blocks away, she could still usually see hints of its glamour through the spaces between the buildings.
By morning, tales of the event had spread even to the darkest corners of Paris. The small tavern on the first floor of her residence was not spared. Over abnormally busy breakfast, she heard elaborate stories of a dark ghost who had captured one of the Opera's chorus girls and spirited her away down into unknown catacombs. Somewhere amongst the story were a vicomte and an intricate love story. The nobility never ceased to amaze her in the complicated webs they created in society to entertain them – if the tale was to be taken at face value.
After paying another night's worth of board, Catherine retreated back up to what had become, more or less, her room. The day was still early, and despite her desire to crawl back into bed after the unsettling night, she had work to do. Life had not left many prospects open to her, and she had to take what she could find. At the age of twenty-eight, the unmarried woman was considered a spinster. Her luck in that field had withered and died when she had passed her early twenties.
Her hair was carelessly piled on top of her head, and she began to rummage through her small trunk for her daytime dress. It had never been her looks that turned them away. A few extra pounds around the waist could be hidden by a corset. Limp black hair could be styled into something appropriate. Her splotchy complexion could be powdered into something more desirable. Yes, she still received several marriage proposals. It was the passion in her green eyes – her personality had always made the suitors reconsider.
She performed her womanly duties well enough, but it was her passions that were 'inappropriate' for her gender. While her mother had instilled a love of the arts as a child for suitor purposes, her mother had never expected her to take to them so well. Her particular love for the violin had blossomed into a desire to be one of the famous musicians she saw on the few occasions she had been taken to the concert hall.
Repeatedly she had been told that she would never reach that point. Women were often singers or dancers encompassed in a theatre, and her mother often fainted at the thought of her daughter going into such a raunchy line of work. Her father simply refused to have her work; they were middle class, and were not at such a point where she needed to work. While a few times he acquiesced and offered her opportunities to work in positions such as a maid in an attempt to derail her determination, she had not been distracted.
Beethoven became her favorite composer, though she managed to learn a few folk songs for humor. After her mother declared she would be a spinster and turned her hopes to her younger sister, she had left home in search of a patron. The search had proved harder than she had imagined in her sheltered home, and she had turned to her folk song repertoire for a source of income. She traveled from tavern to tavern, occasionally trading playing for board, but often simply paying and using her earnings to have a somewhat decent room for the night.
Her current 'home' fit into the latter; though it was a small step up. The closer she got to the arts' blocks in the city, the more she found people in taverns with spare coins. It figured that those that frequented the arts' blocks had the money to throw at its denizens. She had noted, however, that for every well-to-do sir, she saw at least two struggling artists trying to find their way. The arts were a busy world.
She had become rather adept at dressing and fixing herself up for her patron searches, she noted as she glanced in the only-slightly-grimy mirror. Below it laid her beloved violin; she ran a hand along its case, lovingly, before she grasped the handle. The day was young, and she had searching to do.
The small, but elaborate, home of Monsieur Toussaint Bélanger rested closer to the other side of the district. Its location on the quiet boulevard that directly connected to the main street, with its view of the large fountain and park in the center of the street, bespoke of the money the Bélanger family seemed to have. Word in the jobless community was that Monsieur Toussaint was looking for a tutor for his own daughter in the musical arts.
While Catherine had no desire to tutor a young noble, it was an opportunity to impress a man with wealth. A man with wealth could be a patron, she knew. With her violin case grasped firmly in one hand, she approached the door and used her free hand to lightly tap the knocker. An impeccably dressed butler with an impassive face answered rather quickly. He looked her over with a disdainful eye.
She did not bother to correct him. Mademoiselle at her age always seemed to invite snide spinster jokes on the side. "I'm here to inquire of the position of tutor of the musical arts?"
He let out a small sigh, and stepped back to allow her through. "If you will follow me, Madame."
She stepped into a small, but ornate foyer. It seemed designed to make whoever entered it feel small, despite its proportions – and it did its job quite well. Her grip tightened on her violin case as the unnamed butler led her to a waiting room farther back in the house. Upon entering, she found the room to already have several others in it. Men of varying ages in nice black waistcoats and white blouses sat along one side of the room, while a few older, stern-faced women sat on the other side in gray muslin.
"Madame." The butler gestured to a seat and bowed.
With a nod of thanks, she sat down in the chair next to a gray-haired woman, with her hair in a severe bun. The woman barely acknowledged her, and she found herself holding her violin on her lap in a tight grasp. It did not escape her notice that she was the only one who brought an instrument with her; neither was she dressed in a similar fashion to the other ladies.
Time seemed to crawl as she waited. Her palms sweated onto her instrument case, and a few strands of hair fell forward from her careless attempt at a piled bun. As she watched the others go in with each call of "Next!", her nerves shook her to her core. Those in the room were serious tutors, whereas she was only there in an attempt to catch a rich, possible patron's eye. Her thoughts jumbled into a tangled ball of yarn, and so preoccupied with them that it took two calls of "Next!" with only seconds between them for her to realize it was her time – she was the only one left in the waiting room, at the time.
With her violin case in one hand, she smoothed her dress and tucked her rebellious hair with her other. She moved to the large wooden door and pushed it open. The study she stepped into was well lit, and tastefully decorated. Shelves of books lined one wall; another wall held a fireplace with statues on the mantle. In front of the fireplace was a desk on a large rug, and behind the desk sat a slightly plump older man. His dark hair grayed at the temples, and his serious expression was focused on the papers in front of him. Without looking up, he gestured for her to sit on one of the plush chairs in front of his desk. She sat, and laid the instrument case once again on her lap.
After a pause, the presumed Monsieur Toussaint Bélanger asked – or rather, snapped – without looking up, "Name?"
"Madame Catherine Lévesque."
He made a notation on the paper. "Recommendations?"
"I..." – she paused; she had never done an interview for a tutor before – "…have none."
"Hm." The sound he made did not sound pleased. He made another notation. "Qualifications?"
"I… suppose I don't really have any."
The man finally looked up at her; if anything about her appearance surprised him, she could not tell. He looked her up and down, sighed, and rubbed his temples. "Tell me something about yourself, then."
She fiddled with her hands. "I've played the violin since childhood, and have been looking for an opportunity to find a patron to continue my work."
"This station is for a tutor," he said, rather seriously. "Nothing more. And I'd prefer if my daughter learned the piano."
"The violin is a wonderful accompaniment to the piano," she said, before she could stop herself. With no small amount of horror, she heard herself continue on. "I do have a rudimentary knowledge of the piano, and I'd be able to give your daughter the basic teachings, so that she reaches the point where only practice increases her ability to play. Any further accompaniment by me would allow her to progress in a different form. Being female, I won't distract her from her lessons with any sort of inappropriate feelings on either part, and being younger might keep her from being bored or resentful simply on principal, as she may or may not be with any of her other tutors."
It was there when she finally managed to catch her tongue; she feared it was too late, that she had already crossed the line. Monsieur Bélanger's eyebrows had risen as she spoke, and she could not tell if he was offended at her audacity or mildly entertained. Either way, she snapped her mouth shut and averted her eyes to the floor.
"Play something, then." He leaned back in his chair, with his elbows resting on the desk and his fingers interlaced.
"Pardon?" It took a minute for the words to register as something other than a reprimand, and she quickly unlatched the case. "I am sorry – I mean, of course."
The violin itself was a lovely piece of work; her parents had bought it for her when she had only just begun enjoying it, before her passion manifested. Rich-colored, smooth wood gave way to finely tuned strings, accompanied by a well-rosined bow. She quickly tightened the horse-tail-hair, and brought the violin up to her chin. After adjusting her grip on the bow and sitting up straight, she began the first movement of Beethoven's first violin sonata.
Her eyes closed as she continued playing, and the notes fluttered across her eyelids. The sonata had been the first sonata she had ever learned; her own tutor had accompanied her on the piano as she spent countless weeks perfecting it. As her favorite sonata, she had played it enough that it was one of the few pieces she had completely memorized. If she wanted to make up for her outburst and have a chance at getting a foot in the door in the arts, she knew that this piece would be her only chance.
Before she knew it, she had begun the third movement; Bélanger had yet to stop her, and she had been lost in her own happy world to have stopped herself. She briefly considered doing so – and decided to continue. It had to be a good sign that he had not stopped her, and she clung to that hope as she played out the third movement. When she finished, she opened her eyes and carefully lowered the violin.
The monsieur had leaned forward at some point during her playing, and had rested his chin on his hands. He watched her with a calculating expression, and, while she put the violin away, made another notation on his papers. Looking back up, he cleared his throat.
"Thank you, Madame Lévesque. I must now review the candidates. Leave your contact information with Paul, and he will see you out."
As if on cue, the butler stepped in. "Madame, if you would follow me."
"Thank you." She stood, dropped a curtsy, and followed the butler.
It was when she gave Paul the butler the address of the tavern she was staying in that she realized her chances of securing this foothold in the musical community were slim to none. With her head down, she headed back to the tavern; she had enough reasons to drink, she decided, by being a struggling spinster musician.
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