I don’t think about Harry Potter a whole lot, typically, but today I saw a video that featured Harry wearing some cool shades and I started wondering: what if Voldemort’s killing curse had struck Harry just a little lower? What if, on the first of November, 1981, the Dursleys had discovered on the doorstep their infant nephew - not with a conspicuous jagged scar, but instead with eyes the colour of electricity? How would blind Harry Potter’s life differ from the story we already know?
The first divergences are small and predictable. On his eleventh birthday, Harry’s letter from Hogwarts is written in delicate braille and the signature of Minerva McGonagall is elegantly embossed. At the Hut-on-the-Rock, the newly-revealed wizard boy is impressed not by Hagrid’s size but by the unusual depth of his voice.
Arriving at Hogwarts, we get no description of Draco Malfoy’s appearance, but instead learn the self-important scuffing sound of his footsteps, plus the fact that Crabbe and Goyle smell of old oatmeal, too much candy, and something that reminds Harry of grumpy toads.
Instead of learning “Lumos”, our blind Harry learns spells like “Oros” - which makes books and letters whisper their contents to him in their papery voices - as well as “Divinus”, which causes his wand to hum like a tuning fork the closer it gets to the object he’s thinking of.
One very notable thing has changed, however. In this world, no-one will ever tell Harry that he has his mother’s eyes. It’s hard to tell how much this changes Harry’s story; perhaps, without Lily’s eyes to stir up such emotion, Professor Snape won’t inflict Harry with the sadistic cruelty of a jealous lover - though he still treats the Potter boy with the same distance and hostility he felt towards Harry’s father, James (this, plus the acrid fumes and addling, humid vapours of the potions classrooms, continues to make the subject one of Harry’s least favourite).
With eyes that mark him as “The Boy who Lived” he may not be able to see the reflection of his desires in the Mirror of Erised, but upon placing his hand on the mirror’s cool surface Harry’s head is filled with the murmurs of familiar and comforting voices - his uncles, grandmothers, great-aunts and second cousins - and he is taken by an overwhelming sense of belonging, of being home.
Our sighted Harry always relied on the help of his friends to overcome challenges, and this remains true through the challenges to reach the Philosopher’s Stone. Hermione will still fend off the devil’s snare and solve the potion riddle, while Ron’s command over the chess board will still get the trio through the fourth chamber. Unable to see, Harry may yet be able to capture the winged key in the third chamber; instead of chasing the key like a daring snitch-seeker, he rises cautiously on his broom into the middle of the whirling, fluttering cloud and waits patiently until his keen ears distinguish the slow and clumsy flapping of the injured old key, grabbing it cleanly out of the air as it lumbers past him.
In his second year, Harry’s blindness is if anything an advantage in the fight against the basilisk, making him immune to the serpent’s petrifying gaze as he follows the sound of Fawkes’ voice to rend it through its head. (Incidentally, the repercussions of Dobby’s meddling this year will be slightly lessened, as who could blame a blind twelve-year-old for knocking over a sugared violet pudding - although the Dursleys will try - or bumping into a wall at Central Cross station?)
Professor Trelawney’s classes in third year could only be incredibly tedious for Harry, being unable to read tea leaves or see into crystal balls. What’s more, the Divination professor makes near-constant references to “blind prophets” and “third eyes”, which Harry can’t help but feel is somewhat offensive. Hermione will be very patient with Harry when they sit down to practice their astrology readings and Harry has to ask “Where are the stars, Hermione? The stars? Is Mars in the house of Jove right now? What’s the moon doing?”
With all the talk of The Grim this year, all Harry notices is the lingering ‘shaggy dog smell’ that seems to follow him around whenever he’s outside the castle.
Will a blind boy be allowed to participate in the Triwizard Tournament? Of course he will! Wizards don’t understand ‘safety’. Our Harry may not be a confident flyer, but he still has command of the Accio charm, as well as an entire stash of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes products under his bed in his dormitory. Even a Hungarian Horntail can’t see you through Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, not can it smell you once you’ve detonated a few dung bombs. After being tricked into devouring an entire case of Skiving Snackboxes, any dragon is going to feel like taking the day off.
Harry doesn’t recognise Hermione at first when she attends the Yule Ball with Viktor Krum: her improved posture changes the sound of her footsteps, and her voice has taken on a new lilt and clarity after Madam Pomfrey shrunk her teeth to undo Malfoy’s hex. Masking her characteristic smells of library books and toothpaste, she carries with her the flowery scent of the cosmetic potion she put in her hair.
Harry will be incapable of seeing thestrals, even at the start of his fifth year; after hearing the clopping of hooves from his carriage and remarking that “regular, horse-drawn transport seems rather mundane for Hogwarts”, he will be drawn into a very awkward and illuminating conversation with Luna Lovegood about the nature of death.
Umbrige will be described to us not as “toad-like”, but in terms of her voice “like an indignant budgerigar stuck in an expensive vase”. Her classroom smells strongly to Harry of talcum powder and too-sweet tea, with an undertone of vinegar and hints of nightshade.
With a fragment of Tom Riddle’s soul trapped within his eyes, Harry’s visions of Voldemort are stronger than ever, and he rushes as always to confront the Death Eaters - a group of determined friends by his side - at the Ministry of Magic.
Of course this Harry will succeed in hunting down the remaining Horcruxes and tracing the paths of the Deathly Hallows. How could he not, with his magical talents, his powerful capacity for empathy and love, and the endless help of his his allies and friends?
Coming to in a spectral representation of King’s Cross Station, Harry recoils from the whimpering fragment of Voldemort’s should before being greeted by the figure of Albus Dumbledore, whom Harry recognises from his distinguished voice - like a grand old oak tree, its branches bowed under the weight of a thousand stars. Harry’s figment of Dumbledore smells like soap and gold wire, like ink, polished wood and lemon sherbets, and very faintly of kind and humble tears. Occasional wisps of the old man’s expansive beard brush past.
Harry has the same conversation with Dumbledore about life and death, about his own plans and foils, and about Voldemort. Harry is offered the same choice: to go back to the land of the living or to board a train into the beyond. Harry still chooses to return to Voldemort’s camp in the Forbidden Forest, for the sake of his friends, whom he knows and loves by sound and smell and touch.
Harry - The Boy Who Lived - the boy with eyes like lightning, duels Voldemort without ever seeing his snake-like features or the contempt and malice in his red-ringed pupils, and defeats the dark lord just as he does in the original story, because the sum of one’s strength is more than any one sense, just like a community’s strength is greater than that of any one person. Beside the skinny boy with the dark glasses held together by Spell-o-tape stand a frizzy-haired muggle girl who has read every book, two of redhead siblings from a huge and loving family, a forgetful boy raised by grandmother, a girl who still carries around a battered pair of Spectre Specs, and countless other witches and wizards who know that love, acceptance and cooperation are the most powerful magics of all.