Now he was there, far across the sea and lands, staring at the woman Dumbledore had said to be right. At first he was afraid his pessimistic expectations would come true, because the old witch looked pale and frail and tired, almost exhausted. Then she, or the Translatongue, spoke : “You can light off this Charm. I speak your language.” He did as she said, heard her real voice, and wasn’t afraid any more, which was the usual reaction to Milena Horakova’s voice.
“Be very welcome, Harry Potter” she said in an incredibly melodic English, accentuated in a way he never heard, and would never heard again after her. “Please have a seat. I suppose you came for quite a long chat.”
He took place in an ancient high-backed ebony chair, and attempted to look at the room to dispel the charm of her voice. The stone walls were of a warm shade of gold, decorated with tapestries and paintings, not only enchanted ones but also Muggle motionless artworks. Harry saw the numerous books, old and new, the precious boxes, the elegant furniture: he knew little about such things, but the word of “taste” came to him. It was as if generations of witches and wizards with culture, taste, and probably money, had successively left their subtle touch to this place.
“Would you mind a little music ?” Milena asked politely, pointing at a coppery device looking like some vase full of metallic flowers shaped like brass.
He nodded, and rich sounds came from the device, piano and strings, too soft to be a disturbance but as present as if the orchestra would have been in that very room.
“Professor Dumbledore was fond of music too” he couldn’t help to say.
She smiled, but not happily : “Indeed. And that isn’t the only fondness we shared. But for that one, there are some obvious reasons. Music is a strong ally against Dark Arts. I find it more and more needed with the passing of time. Old age might be a Dark Art, too.”
And she looked old indeed, not because of wrinkles nor white hair, but for the sudden weight shadowing her shoulders. Harry had seen pictures of her in her youth, wearing strange old-fashioned robes, and she had been beautiful, tall and slender, fair-haired, with a gracious face and deep dark blue eyes. But he wasn’t able to tell if something of that beauty remained. He was too young. Or she was passed in a realm where physical beauty no longer mattered.
“You might be hungry. Or thirsty. I can offer you Russian tea and cakes, if you please.”
He nodded again, then answered, with effort : “Thank you, yes. You’re very kind. That was quite a long trip.” His voice sounded hoarse and ill-articulated after hers. But he was a polite boy, and she looks a little like some old Hogwarts’ teacher.
The tea was dark and strong. He added sugar. The cakes were good, both sweet and spicy. Mrs Weasley would have asked for the recipe. The thought of his mother-in-law helped him to feel better: she would have been perfectly at ease there, eating cakes and chatting with the old witch. The tea was probably helping, too. That was another thing Mrs Weasley knew about Defence Against Dark Arts.
So Harry was able to drink his cup, eat two cakes, and begin. Words came easily after all.
“I had a dream about Professor Dumbledore. I’m not sure that was a dream, but it took place after his death, so I have to suppose… A vision or something. We spoke of many subjects, but he said something about you.”
She was listening very attentively now, her head slightly leaned to her right.
“And you see, I had never heard about you, so I couldn’t have imagined your name.”
That sounded desperate, he thought.
But she said : “Of course you couldn’t. What did he say? What did Albus say, exactly?”
“He said you were right, after all.”
He expected something, of course, some violent reaction, some revelation. Nothing happened of that sort. She kept smiling in her neither happy nor sad way. Harry’s excitation falled off. There he was. A detail of no importance. May be a cake’s recipe after all.
She looked at him directly. Her eyes were still dark and deep, blue as an evening sky.
“And I suppose that during this conversation, you talked about both Voldemort and Grindelwald?”
Harry sustained his breath. She went on without an answer : “Of course you did. There are few questions worthy to delay a departure to the other world. Especially for someone like Albus Dumbledore. Only remorse and duty, love and death.”
We didn’t speak about love, Harry wanted to say, but he stopped. He wasn’t sure anymore. They might have had. They might have spoken exactly of the matters she had named.
“You know ? he dared. You know what he was talking about ?”
“I might. I suppose I do, yes. But that’s a long tale, in an old-womanish fashion. Are you sure you want to hear it? That is about things past and done, not even connected to you.”
Didn’t she know that anyone would listen to the longest tales, told by a voice like hers?
“I do, Harry answered gravely. I feel… I need to know more about Dumbledore, about what he was before I knew him. I came for this tale. It cannot be too long.”
Then she began, and the music from the copper vase changed, as if it was accompanying her storytelling.