The moment Raoul de Chagny grabbed her mother’s arm, Meg knew that her suspicions were true. Whatever, whoever the Phantom or Opera Ghost was, her mother knew more than she’d been letting on all these years. She hurriedly pulled her shirt over her head, having been in the middle of changing costumes for the upcoming ballet scene in Don Juan Triumphant, when the Phantom pulled Christine down through the stage trapdoor after cutting the support rope for the great chandelier. She knew she’d never forget the screams as the heavy piece crashed to the stage, igniting the set. She ran to catch up with her mother and Christine’s fiancé.
“…and remember, M’sieur, keep your hand at the level of your eye,” Mme. Giry told the young vicomte as they hurried along the backstage corridor.
“I’ll come with you,” Meg offered.
“No, you stay here,” her mother ordered as she guided Raoul towards one of the lesser-used areas of the huge building.
Meg frowned but turned back, attempting to block the mob of scene shifters, chorus men, and police from following. One small ballet dancer, however, was not nearly enough to hold them back and she was swiftly pushed aside. The mob, however, had not grown up living at L’Opera Populaire, and she had. She slipped away and down another disused corridor, making her way down into the catacombs that even her mother didn’t know she knew about. Oh, she’d never explored too far; even as a child, the tales of the Phantom served to keep her from venturing too far beyond the regularly-used areas of the building. But she was fairly certain she knew of at least two ways into the depths she’d never dared to explore fully. Hopefully she’d catch up with her mother and Raoul before the mob did. She ventured downward, as quickly as she dared move in the darkness.
She started to hurry when she saw light ahead of her, but thought the better of it when she heard three voices trying to out-shout each other. Christine’s was the easiest to recognize, then Raoul’s, and finally Meg recognized the third voice as belonging to the Phantom. She’d only heard him speak clearly once before, when he’d made his mysterious appearance at the New Year’s masquerade. She tiptoed up to the edge of the light.
Raoul was bound to an iron gate halfway across a shallow pool, a noose around his neck. Christine stood on the steps leading into the pool, while the Phantom, now that Meg could see him fully, proved to be a man with half of his face horribly scarred. No wonder he always was masked, on his few ventures in public, she thought with a twinge of sympathy. He’d be quite handsome otherwise. He was standing halfway between Christine and Raoul, holding the other end of the noose. She tried to make out what they were saying. Christine was sobbing that her Angel of Music betrayed her, while Raoul shouted for the Phantom to free her, and the Phantom demanded Christine choose between staying with him and setting Raoul free, or leaving in which case Raoul would die.
Finally, silence fell. Christine stared at Raoul for a long moment, then slowly moved into the water and kissed the Phantom, embracing him tenderly. For an instant he looked shocked, but then he melted into her arms. When she pulled back again, he stared at her. “Go!” he said. “Take your lover and go! Hurry, before I change my mind!” He turned away and dropped the rope, climbing the steps into what seemed to be his living space, passing perilously close to where Meg crouched in the shadows.
Christine wasted no time untying Raoul. While the young vicomte raised the gate, the singer moved back over to the Phantom and quietly handed him something before she hurried back to Raoul. The couple climbed into a small boat, which Raoul poled out beyond the gate and out of sight. Once they were gone, the Phantom seemed to come to life once more, angrily smashing several mirrors. The last one he broke concealed a tunnel, which he ducked into and drew a curtain over the opening.
Meg stepped out of her hiding spot, hearing the sounds of the mob drawing near. She crossed over to where the Phantom’s customary mask lay abandoned beside a music box with a cymbal-playing monkey figurine in Persian robes perched atop it, picking up the mask and examining it for a moment before tucking it into her shirt. She had it hidden just in time, too, as the mob poured into the Phantom’s secret chambers. As the police and other men poked around the room, examining the bed and other furnishings, crunching the glass from the broken mirrors under their feet, she saw her mother slip in behind them. She moved over to the older woman, who looked relieved to see her. But when Mme. Giry started to speak, Meg laid a finger over her lips, gesturing to the police and others still milling around the chamber.
The two women drew back into the shadows, remaining unnoticed as the mob trooped back up to report that they’d found the mysterious Opera Ghost’s lair, but no sign of him or of his prisoner. Meg hoped that whatever story Christine and Raoul told would satisfy everyone. Despite the killings, she felt bad for the Phantom, and didn’t wish to see him hunted to his death. Once they were alone, she turned to her mother. “Explain… I know you know something about this.”
Mme. Giry sighed, and admitted to her daughter the story of the night some twenty-five years earlier, when she and the other young teen-aged ballerinas in training at L’Opera Populaire went to a traveling carnival. She told of seeing “The Devil’s Child,” a boy several years younger than herself, displayed in a cage and treated like an animal because of the horrible scarring on half his face. And of turning back just before leaving the display tent, in time to see the boy’s keeper destroy the child’s one toy in a fit of anger, and the boy retaliate by attacking like the animal he was treated as, eventually strangling the man with a garrote. She told of hiding the boy, smuggling him into Paris and sneaking him into the basements of L’Opera Populaire, where he grew to manhood in isolation.
The boy proved to be a musical genius, Mme. Giry went on, eventually writing many of the operas performed at the house over the years, and using her as his intermediary to the owners. When the eight year old orphaned Christine Daae first came to L’Opera Populaire to live and train, he heard her praying in the chapel, pleading for her deceased father to send her the “Angel of Music” that he often spoke of in her childhood. He began training her, telling her he was indeed the Angel of Music that her father had promised would one day come to her. By doing so, he not only assuaged his own deep loneliness, but grew very fond of the girl, becoming obsessed with her as she grew from child to young woman.
Meg exploded. “How could you, Maman?” she asked angrily. “How could you let him be alone down there all those years? You could have been his friend yourself! You could have sent some of the others down to him! Instead you let him languish alone, so that he became obsessed with Christine because she was the only young woman he had any interaction with once he reached manhood! Aside from not abusing him, how did you treat him any better than those carnival gypsies who caged him like an animal?”
“I wasn’t much more than a child myself when I brought him here, Meg,” Mme. Giry protested. “I didn’t know what I was doing… only that I couldn’t bear seeing him beaten like a dog!”
“Go back, Maman,” Meg said softly. “They’ll need you to keep the ballet together, if they can recover from this. I’m going to try to find him. I think he’s got some good in him… and what he’s become is what others have forced him into becoming. He doesn’t deserve to be hunted down like a beast.”
Mme. Giry looked at her daughter in resignation. “Be safe, Meg,” she said at last. “Be safe, and stay in touch.”
“I will,” Meg promised, as her mother moved to the hidden staircase. She watched the older woman vanish into the darkness, then made her way back into the Phantom’s quarters. Searching around, she located a large carpetbag in the back of his wardrobe, and methodically packed several of his suits. She guessed that the police would return to the hidden sanctum soon enough, but if she could find him, he’d need warm clothing. The worst of winter was over, true, but it was still only March. This early in spring, Paris was notoriously rainy and chill. She added two pairs of shoes and a cloak to the carpetbag and paused to braid her hair and pin it up. She donned another cloak, took a deep breath, picked up the carpetbag, and stepped behind the curtain and into the hidden passageway behind the broken mirror.