How Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban's Time Travel Works

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Ron, Harry, and Hermione lined up for the poster, with Sirius in the background

It’s been a couple weeks since we began delving into the world of time travel here at CinemaBlend, but to us, it’s felt like a minute. Time being relative and all, it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since we’ve last met. What matters is we’re here, yet again, to look into the world of time travel at the movies, and the best part is this week’s exploration not only doesn’t require a time machine per se, we also don’t have to worry about scavenging an outfit once we’re back in the past. This week, it’s time to turn through the sands of time in the 2004 feature film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban!

Yes, as Hogwarts’ sage headmaster Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) once said time is a “mysterious thing,” that is also “powerful, and when meddled with, dangerous.” But, as with anything else matching that description in the Harry Potter universe, that doesn’t stop some of our beloved fictional wizards from using them in a pinch. It’s time to solemnly swear we’re up to no good, as we dig into how the time travel of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban works.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the Shrieking Shack showdown between Harry, Ron, Hermione, Sirius, and Remus

The Time Travel In Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban drops a lot of bombshells in one fateful moment within the Shrieking Shack at Hogwarts. Sirus Black (Gary Oldman) is still very much alive, and is also a good guy/godfather to Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe.) But a whole bunch of wizarding intrigue happens, and the end result is that Sirius is sentenced to death upon his capture. Which leads to director Alfonso Cuaron’s big on screen time trip, where not one, but two lives hang in the balance.

Who's Time Traveling?

Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Harry Potter take the important journey through time. However, Ms. Granger has become a dab hand at the temporal arts throughout Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as we eventually learn.

From When To When?

The big trip sends Harry and Hermione back to earlier in the evening where the big reveal about Peter Pettigrew’s (Timothy Spall) villainy takes place. Hermione’s other trips were also relatively small jaunts as well, as she was previously using the time turner to attend multiple classes at the same time throughout her third year at Hogwarts.

The Purpose Of Their Trip?

When Hermione Granger initially started time traveling, it was to double her course load in Year 3. With classes relevant to her interests happening at the same time, she’d be able to have her brain food and eat it too. However, the big trip sees Hermione and Harry trying to prevent two big tragedies: the executions of Buckbeak the Hippogriff and Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the Time Turner up close in Hermione's hands

How Time Travel Happens In Harry Potter

If you want to time travel in the Harry Potter universe, all you need is a little bit of jewelry. More specifically, you’ll need a Time Turner, a device which, upon first glance looks like a necklace with an hourglass built in. Good luck finding one though, as the entire lot of them were believed to have been held by the Ministry of Magic. Hermione got special permission to use one for her classes as long as she abided by the rules. First impressions would suggest that whoever wears this beauty is either a huge Boggle or Pictionary fanatic, or just likes to keep track of the time. The latter assumption, as it turns out, couldn’t be more appropriate.

To use the Time Turner, all the wearer (or in the case of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’s pivotal journey, wearers) has to do is turn the embedded hourglass once for each hour they want to go back, and they’ll be transported back to that time. According to Dumbledore’s instructions, three turns were all that were needed for this trip, which sent Harry and Hermione back from Midnight to 7:30 that evening, right before Buckbeak was to be executed. With a little magic math, we can calculate that one turn equals an hour and a half’s worth of time travel. That’s fine for a quick trip back into the past, but if one wanted to go further, it might be suggested that you put in a couple extra arm days at the gym when preparing.

A really neat feature to the Time Turner is the fact that, depending on how big your chain is, you can fit multiple travelers in for a trip to the past or future. As long as you and your intended companions can wear the chain together, the timeline is your oyster. The rationale behind all of this time traveling falderal is the same force that drives 90% of the Harry Potter universe: pure magic!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Harry holding Hermione back in the forest

Can History Be Changed As A Result Of Time Travel In Harry Potter?

In the case of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, time travel is something that doesn't seem to really change the course of events. Everything from Hermione throwing rocks to attract Harry’s attention to Buckbeak not actually being executed to saving Sirius from the dementors happens on both sides of the Time Turner's use. We're merely seeing them from another point of view, which shows that the executioner's axe chopped into a pumpkin (the fence, in the book), and that it was Harry who saved his past self with his stag Patronus.

From where things stand in the film, it looks like Hermione Granger and Harry Potter are officially students of the Kyle Reese School of Time Travel, as we've got ourselves a predestination paradox here. (Also, in the books, Hermione never throws those rocks. But this is a movie, and those sorts of markers really help in the storytelling.)

Though this was a loop of events that were always going to happen, there are still rules to follow. As Hermione explains to Harry in the book, Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) warned her that horrific things could happen if one time travelled irresponsibly. Like, say, killing oneself in either the past or the present, which is sort of referenced in the film during Dumbledore's own warning to Hermione. His instructions were merely that she and Harry couldn’t be seen by anyone, which also warrants a tip of the Sorting Hat to one Dr. Emmett L. Brown and his views on time travel; but also muddies the waters as to whether or not the young wizards could ever really change anything.

As long as Harry and Hermione have accomplished their goals, and make it back to their starting position by the time they left, without running into their past selves, the timeline will presumably remain undamaged. Which, in turn, closes the predestination loop, and lets everyone return for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Luckily for us, everything is pretty above board in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and what we witness is a pre-determined flow of time that seems like it was always going to happen the way it panned out.

However, a quick spoiler alert’s worth of information, if you want to read about time travel going horribly wrong in the Harry Potter universe, you’ll want to check out the text to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Let’s just say the Back to the Future influences on time travel in this universe run way deeper in that particular story. Plus, you could go back quite far in the timeline if you really wanted to, as that Time Turner apparently operated on some different principles. With that, we’ll add one final caveat when it comes to time traveling in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: make sure you’re traveling somewhere safe, as the spot you're standing is where you’re going to wind up.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Buckbeak and Sirius ready to take flight

What Are The Consequences Of Time Travel In Harry Potter?

Thanks to the keen wit and rule following of Hermione Granger, and with some help from Harry Potter of course, Buckbeak and Sirius Black are allowed to escape into the night. With their freedom won, and their lives spared, Sirius can now go into hiding, hoping that his name will be cleared and that things will die down enough for Harry to be able to come live with him. However, dark times wait ahead, as the course of events in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban weren’t changed so much as to alter history’s flow too heavily.

Peter Pettigrew still escapes from captivity, and Professor Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) resigns after it’s revealed to the world at large that he is, in fact, a werewolf. So the world of Harry Potter keeps turning in the same orbit that we would have expected, by and large. But when it comes to Buckbeak and Sirius, those changes are definitely large enough to make all the difference, and they wouldn't have been possible without the Time Turner.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Harry zooming through the skies

Temporal Mischief Managed

And here we are, back where we started, at the cusp of a new time travel exploration. If it’s alright with you folks, it feels like a good time to relax with either a good cup of tea or a large brandy. But that doesn’t mean our temporal revels have ended; in fact it’s quite the opposite. However, before we announce next week’s excellent adventure, we’d like to take the time to thank you, the fans.

We’ve gotten feedback requesting some adventures we’d been planning on covering, like the Kelvin timeline of Star Trek, and other movies we hadn’t thought of tackling like the Lost in Space reboot from 1998. Gary Oldman just can’t stay away from time travel, can he. In addition to those requests, we have plans for the rest of the time traveling escapades from the Star Trek film series, as explorations of Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact are also on the board.

However, for next week, we have a most triumphant entry in the works. While we teased it a couple paragraphs above, we can now come out and say that next week’s time travel lesson will encompass the adventures of Bill S. Preston, Esq and Ted Theodore Logan; or as they’re better known to the world, Bill & Ted! It’s time to face the music, as the Wyld Stallyns are about to ride again, and it’d be most non-non-heinous if we didn’t jump into their bogus journeys throughout all of time and space. So tune up your air guitars and meet us at the Circle K next week, as we’ll pick apart the strange things that are afoot in the Bill & Ted universe.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.