Then terror walked in through the door. Three minutes and 60 bullets later, 12 people lay dead or dying.
The Charlie Hebdo team had been only too aware of the risks their fiery, take-no-prisoners brand of satire could bring. The magazine's previous offices had been bombed, and editor Stephane 'Charb' Charbonnier had received death threats for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
But Charbonnier was famously unrepentant, telling Le Monde newspaper: 'I'd rather die standing than live on my knees.' He and his bodyguard, Franck Brinsolaro, were both killed in the massacre.
Opinion: We walked united, but solace was short-lived
Being a journalist can be dangerous. The roll of honor, updated all too often, on the Committee to Protect Journalists' website is proof of this; but for those like me who spend more time at their desks than diving for cover in warzones, the risk of death seems a distant prospect.
This was something different. The Charlie Hebdo team had been massacred in their own office, supposedly as 'punishment' for doing their job; others -- police, visitors, a caretaker -- died because they were in the wrong place at the worst possible time.
Journalism itself was under attack, a fact brought home to me as I sat on a Eurostar train, heading towards Paris to cover the story. With the killers still on the loose, all CNN staffers covering the story were warned not to post details of their movements on social media, for fear that we too might become targets.
Arriving in the city a short time later, I found it stunned, but defiant.
The gunmen who opened fire inside Charlie Hebdo's unassuming office in the 11th arrondissement had taken aim at freedom of speech. In a country devoted since the French Revolution to the principles of 'Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite,' such a thing was -- previously -- unthinkable.
Hours after the first shots rang out in Rue Nicolas Appert, Parisian Corentin Vacheret was one of thousands of mourners at the Place de la Republique, insisting that 'killing journalists is not going to make us renounce our freedom of expression.'
In the days and weeks following the Charlie Hebdo attack, millions took to the streets to defend people's 'Liberte' to say whatever they wanted without fear of violence or retribution.
Holding pens aloft, they chanted 'Je Suis Charlie' ('I am Charlie') and left pencils and art supplies as tributes among the more traditional bouquets and candles.
At one of the many demonstrations, Anais Ruales told me it was important to 'keep in mind that, like 'Charlie' we are always trying to fight for peace and freedom [don't] forget that in the moment of terror, of anger.'
The same night, wrapped up against the cold, Leslie Martin was defiant, waving a hand-painted sign that read 'I am Charlie. I am a police officer. I am not frightened.'
'I'm not afraid. I'm here, and ... I don't care if anybody comes and wants to do something really bad. I'm not afraid to die with this,' she continued, shaking her placard, 'Because I'm really proud of it.'
But in November, when men armed with assault rifles appeared on the city's streets once more, it was Paris itself, its people, and its way of life that seemed to be under attack.
And this time, people were scared, rather than angry.
Attackers armed with Kalashnikovs and explosives targeted half a dozen locations across the city, from a sports stadium to a concert venue, and a string of bars and restaurants, killing 130 people and wounding dozens more.
If such a thing could happen to workmates celebrating a birthday party, to music fans dancing at a gig or to friends sat sharing a Friday night pizza, it could happen to anyone, couldn't it?
Tailor Adam Caba, whose tiny shop, crammed with heavy winter coats waiting to be altered, faces the Belle Equipe bar where 19 people died, echoed the puzzled thoughts of many when he told me, sadly: 'I don't understand it. Why would they come here? Why target us?'
Eiffel Tower tour guide Adam El Daly, who was out with friends near the scene of the attacks, explained the fear sparked by the apparent lack of reasoning behind them.
'When the Charlie Hebdo attack happened, I was very shocked, but it was picked because it was a symbol, they were journalists targeted for their work,' he said. 'This time it was indiscriminate -- the victims could have been you or me -- and that's what's freaking people out.'
Back in Paris once more, wandering past the floral tributes, messages and bottles of wine and beer piled outside the Belle Equipe, I came across a defiant note that read: 'We will continue to live, to dance, to listen to music, to have fun on café terraces, to kiss and to help one another.'
Moments later, as I walked along a gray, wintry street in the 11th arrondissement, past armed police on patrol, cheery piano music bubbled out across the sidewalk. Looking to see where it had come from, I peeked through a door and found a tap lesson in full swing.
Just a few streets away from the scene of several of the attacks, only days later, Parisians were dancing once more.
Perhaps they were following the advice of Antoine Leiris, who lost his wife, Helen Muyal, at the Bataclan. His Facebook post declaring that her killers 'will not have my hatred' went viral.
'If we stand free, if we stand here with a zest for life, with happiness ... then [the terrorists] don't win,' he told CNN in the wake of the attacks.
In the past 12 months, the people of Paris have lost many things: innocence and security, friends and loved ones -- but not, it seems, their joie de vivre.
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