Exclusive: Harry Potter and the Faceless Men
The Punch presents an exclusive peek at Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s first foray into writing for grownups, following her announcement she is excited about exploring “new territory”.
Harry peeled his head off the Formica tabletop, wincing as his brains audibly bounced against his aching skull. He fumbled then palmed his smeared glasses onto his face and scanned last night’s wreckage – a shattered bong on the carpet, ice crystals clagging up the bottom of a plastic baggie, cigarette butts floating in beer bottles.
Ron was clawing at the couch in his sleep, groaning. Last night’s vomit matted his hair, which glinted a sickly red in the mid-morning light.
As always, Harry struggled to jigsaw his thoughts back together, to piece himself together before the anxiety and the fear smashed him wide open.
Last night’s bender had – again – been triggered by a visit to his doughy, earnest, cheesecloth-wearing psychologist, Hermione. A long-since-forgotten girlfriend had dragged him to Hermione’s rooms when she woke one morning to his piercing screams. She always claimed he was trying to poke out her eyes with a stick, mumbling madly in some foreign language. He never believed her.
But he knew there was something dark inside him, and so he kept faithfully turning up for his sessions. He could barely dress himself. He didn’t eat. He was smoking two packs a day and spending his nights scraping together enough booze and drugs to blunt his mind. But he almost always made it to his sessions.
Hermione had answers. He suspected they weren’t always the right ones, but he needed someone to tell him what was wrong, and how to start fixing his life. And she was there even though he long ago stopped paying the bills. She was still digging around in the murky depths of his brain and pulling out his past, hoping it would heal him.
The first bit of flotsam that emerged was, of course, his parents. The beatings, the room under the stairs. The hours locked up with only his thoughts. Sitting in his own piss and shit, alone in the dark. That’s why his mind flipped out and convinced him they were not his real parents – it was a survival technique. He had heard Dudley Dursley had developed terminal testicular cancer, and he was glad.
The next bit of jetsam was his first foster carer, Albus. Albus was the first person to be kind to him, to read to him. Harry could remember Albus and his kind eyes, Albus beckoning to him, taking him away from the other children to his private rooms. Albus saying “It’ll be our little secret, Harry, don’t tell anyone, ever.”
Sometimes Harry thought he’d rather have his false memories, of friends and feasts and trains and tricks, than the dirty dark truth Hermione was dragging out of him. It was like an exorcism. God, it hurt, but on a good day he thought maybe one morning he would wake up, clear, free.
He didn’t think that would be today. His guts were tortured, coiling inside him with revulsion at the toxins he had filled them with. He clenched his jaw, his arse, his fist. And remembered.
The faceless men.
It was the last part of his endless nightmare to be dragged, blinking, into the light. Since he was a child he had dreamed of the faceless men. They would swoop, pounce on him and suck out his power, his soul. In sleep, his spine would prickle with their icy presence and he would plunge into a deep and foul despair.
He knew when they won they would leave nothing but an empty shell, incapable of independent thought. Sometimes he woke drained and poached in his own fearful night-sweats and think there was an even darker force behind them.
But yesterday, Hermione had banished this last fear. She had pulled it out of him, and laughed at it, and made him see it was just his own paranoia. Harry remembered now, that the binge had started with champagne, that it was a celebration, not an escape, and a smile tugged at the corner of his cracked lips.
That was when he heard it. Ron had swum up into consciousness and found the remote, pouring Sky News into the lounge.
And in Breaking News, flashing across the screen, was the warning that Harry’s deepest fear, the faceless men, were really here.
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