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At the end of The Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and Hermione travel back in time to save Sirius (and as it turns out, Buckbeak) and escape the Dementors.

If this is a legitimate option for saving people, why don't they ever use it again? If they can use it to save Sirius in The Prisoner of Azkaban, why can't they use it to save him when he dies in The Order of the Phoenix? For that matter, why can't they go back to the beginning and kill Tom Riddle before he becomes Voldemort?

The only thing I can think of is that in The Prisoner of Azkaban, maybe they use the Time Turner before Sirius is given to the Dementors, and so they're not actually saving him from something that already happened; they're altering a series of events that they know will lead up to him being handed over to the Dementors. Is that how time travel works in Harry Potter land? That is, you can't alter something as definitive as death (or a Dementor's kiss), but you can alter other events that have occurred and consequently prevent a death that you know will occur?

11 Answers 11

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From what I remember about the books and the films, Hermione only gets given the Time Turner device in her third year at Hogwarts. She was given it, with the permission of the Ministry of Magic, so that she could attend two sets of lessons at once.

In this link, you can see that she stated that the pressure of using it to do twice as much work became too stressful, so she returned the device to the ministry. In the following year, all the devices were destroyed during the battle at the ministry, so it was not possible to use the device again. I am therefore guessing that the art of creating such a device was lost in the years since they were first made.

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    Good point. I remembered that Hermione didn't have the Time Turner until the third year, but it seems a little odd that Dumbledore would give it to her in order to take classes, but not give it to Harry (or use it himself) in order to save lives. Also - now that you mention it I remember that in the books, the Time Turners were destroyed during the battle at the Ministry. But I'm not sure they pointed that out in the movie, did they? If not, they should have! – Lauren Dec 2 '11 at 14:32
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    You raise an interesting point. If they are so rare and can not be reproduced, why would Dumbledore give such a thing to Hermione just for taking more classes? There would be so much more useful things to do. Then again, as Dumbledore said, his greatest wish was a pair of warm socks. He of all people would know the danger of using very powerful things to do something you think is good. Instead of wishing for more power to make the world better, and instead of using the Time Turner to destroy Voldie, he used it for 'good' on a smaller scale. – Stephan Muller Dec 5 '11 at 9:33
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    I think that Rowling didn't really want to play with time, but it was a path she felt was necessary for the direction of the story. As such, there are going to be inconsistencies and open questions, because time travel offers an unparalleled scope, and it would be difficult, impractical and boring for the reader if they were all tied up neatly. – Codemwnci Dec 8 '11 at 18:03
  • All the requisite ability is available to them to reconstruct time travel had they the wit to find it. But in the era it was set, the greatest of our scientists if put to the question might not realize they know all the pieces even given a technique that can construct any mundane object. – Joshua Feb 1 '18 at 16:14
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I'm not going to repeat the excellent plot oriented answers - but its my opinion that JKR probably realized that freely available and controllable time travel can critically damage your ability to make a problem that cannot be simply resolved by the protagonist. Magic itself has that problem too - but at least she can put limits on the magic and the fact that other characters in the story have magic too which cancels out some of the power that gives Harry & co.

This is exactly why (most) of the stories that include time travel that I can think of involve plot points to make it unpredictable or uncontrollable or simply hard to do:

  • Back to the Future (1.21 gigawatts of power or it is broken)
  • Dr. Who (the Tardis is broken and hard to control, and for one whole period grounded entirely)
  • Star Trek (its always some accident or external issue - though magically they always get to return ok)
  • The Time Tunnel (i seem to recall that there is an accident with it)
  • The Time Machine (he passes out when using it and ends up going too far)
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    Dr. Who also has this idea of "fixed points in time", that cannot be altered. – oers May 10 '12 at 8:24
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    @oers Fixed points are a rather new invention in Dr. Who though, IIRC. – Michael Jul 17 '15 at 18:45
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From reading the books I'd say that in a sense a Time-Turner can't really be used to change the past at all. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and Hermione use the Time-Turner around midnight to travel back three hours in time, endeavoring to save Sirius and Buckbeak. However, everything they do in these three hours has already happened:

  • At the end of Chapter 16, there's "the unmistakable swish and thud of an axe" (followed by Hagrid's howling). Later we learn that this was not the executioner killing Buckbeak, but the executioner swinging his axe into the fence in anger.

  • At the end of Chapter 20, Harry, Hermione and Sirius are saved from the dementors by the Patronus that the back-in-time Harry conjured, and the "real" Harry sees his "future" self patting the Patronus (believing that he sees his father).

  • Only in Chapter 21 they use the Time-Turner. I'd say they have to use it since they had already taken influence on the past, as described in the previous two bullet points – their travelling back in time had already happened.

Thus, the answer to your question is: When you use a Time-Turner, you can alter only events that you have no definitive knowledge of. (Everything Harry and Hermione do is 100% consistent with what they had already experienced first-hand.) In particular, you can't go back to the beginning and kill Tom Riddle before he becomes Voldemort.

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    While the examples from the book may be sound, this whole question is about the movie. If this same question was asked on lit.se, then this would be a good answer, but this is about the movie, and as far as i can remember, no in-movie explanation was ever given about this. – Tablemaker Feb 13 '12 at 15:59
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    @Tyler: Yeah, you're right. That's why I started my answer with "from reading the books". I just thought the answer might still help. – Hendrik Vogt Feb 13 '12 at 16:02
  • I have no doubt it helps with the answer and the books themselves say flat out why. I'm just trying to poke around and get people's reactions to answers to adaptations using the source material, rather than the movie itself :) – Tablemaker Feb 14 '12 at 4:45
  • @Tyler: Right, that's good. Then here's another one for you. That's the answer I was just going to post :-) – Hendrik Vogt Feb 14 '12 at 7:45
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I can not recall exactly where or when but I vividly remember that Dumbledore once told Harry that playing with time can be a very dangerous act and it can trap the time abuser in something like a Time Loop (for whatever it is!).

But in my own opinion time traveling is one those matters that if not dealt with correctly and thoroughly can become one of those weak points of the story and obviously it is a weak point in the Harry Potter series.

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    That last bit of course is very true, from the storytelling-perspective. It ruined (to me) lots of movies, tv series and books. But it doesn't explain it from a point of view inside the Potterverse. – Stephan Muller Dec 5 '11 at 9:36
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    Maybe you had this piece in mind, from Chapter 21, Book 3? Hermione says "Exactly! You wouldn't understand, you might even attack yourself! Don't you see? Professor McGonagall told me what awful things have happened when wizards have meddled with time ... Loads of them ended up killing their past or future selves by mistake!" – Hendrik Vogt Feb 13 '12 at 13:10
  • I can not recall exactly where or when but I vividly remember that Dumbledore once told Harry that playing with time can be a very dangerous act and it can trap the time abuser in something like a Time Loop (for whatever it is!). this is not true at all. – farukdgn Jul 7 '17 at 11:35
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I believe that the time tuner cannot surpass reminding over a day. On a replica timer tuner I own it has inscribed on it: "I count the hours, every one. Yet have I to outrun the sun." I think this means that the time tuner doesn't have the power to go back a day's time. All magic has its limits right?

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If just say Harry had travelled back to when Tom Riddle was young and killed him, Harry would have no way of getting back to the present time as it appears the Time Turner only allows people to go back and no forward. This would result in Harry being old by the time he is supposed to be in Hogwarts.

So if this was to work then one individual would have to sacrifice their life in the present time for a life in the past.

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    That's a good point. It's also worth suggesting that if it's 1 turn per hour and the idea is to go back and stop Tom Riddle when he's a boy, lets see, If that requires travelling back 30 years 30 x 365 x 24. I imagine the Time Turner would break before it lets the user turn it over a quarter of a million times. – userLTK Jun 19 '17 at 9:47
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Here's a practical answer.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and Hermione move the time turner three times to go three hours in the past.

By the time Tom Riddle turned into Voldemort, he was probably 18. So anyone who wants to kill Voldemort would have to move the time turner for 10*365*24 times, in order to kill Tom Riddle who wasn't powerful at all when he was 8.

Which, honestly, sounds like a lot of effort.

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Here's a hypothesis since it is not stated in the book. I believe even with magic a person cannot go back in time before their birth. Also may be the time turner is simply a magical object that isn't as powerful enough to move far back in time.

But that's just hypothesis, only real facts are that it has mental effects on the user. Like Hermione getting stressed or Dumbledore warning that the wearer cannot let the past self-see their future counterpart otherwise they can get crazy.

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Going by the other answer that says it can't outrun the sun, so, no more than 24 hours. There's still the question, why didn't they go back and save Sirius from his death. Lets assume that it was possible, why wasn't it done?

The cheap answer is that they didn't have the time turner. It was presumably locked away in Hogwards for safe keepng and not easily gotten to, but lets assume Dumbledore could have gotten hold of it, so hypothetically, Harry has the Time Turner, with Dumbledore's consent. Why not save Sirius?

In the books, Hermione told Harry "Terrible things happen to wizards who mess with time" and Dumbledore told Hermione "you know the rules" - so, there are rules and consequences. That much is clear. I think there was also a "let nobody see you" warning in there as one of the rules.

One problem that immediately stands out is if Sirius isn't part of the rescue party, that is, if they warn him not to go and he doesn't, maybe somebody else dies. Maybe Harry dies. At the very best, there would be one less person for the rescue, with at least a fair chance of somebody else dying.

When warned of his death, Sirius might likely have said "I don't care, Harry is what matters". Warning him might have done little, except perhaps kept his defenses up when Bellatrix was near.

There's also the "let nobody see you" problem. How do they go back in time, tell Sirius not to go and have nobody say to him "Sirius, why aren't you coming? - Harry needs you".

When Sirius and Buckbeak were rescued in the previous book, Buckbeak was changed up but unwatched. Sirius was locked-up in the tower up but unwatched. Rescuing them could be done un-seen. That's more difficult if someone dies in battle with others around.

And there's the moral dilemma. Sirius would not have let his friends go on the rescue without him and if he had, the outcome might have been worse.

In theory, Harry could have gone back to warn himself not to go, but again that breaks the rules. "Terrible things happen to wizards who mess with time"

It seems probable that Harry might ask for the time turner, at least to Hermione if not Dumbledore, because that's who he was, more heart than sense and "save him" would have been the first thing on his mind. Either one of those two would have recognized the situation was one where the time turner would be a terrible idea, as most situations you'd want to reverse would be. Rare situations where the rescuee is alone, and location is known within 24 hours - maybe and even then, using it is risky (and probably illegal).

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It's obviously not possible because even if they killed Voldemort when he was Tom riddle in the past, He would live on in the present time because the time turner only alters the events never changes the outcome. If we consider Sirius being kissed by the Dementors as in the movies, Harry never did anything to alter that. He was kissed a second time too. But Harry cast the Patronus charm in such a way that it matched exactly as he saw it in the past.

Tom riddle couldn't be killed as a teenager. This is because either Harry or Hermione wouldn't be born back then. Moreover they would have to live their lives until the present time which must be at least 50 years if we go by the mechanism of time travelling.

Regarding why JK Rowling did not use time turners any further than Prisoner of Azkaban I can only conjectured that it was a plot device designed to show how dangerous time travelling can be. Hermione herself said that people ended up killing the present form of their selves back in the past thinking some black magic was going on. Also Hermione was pretty stressed after using the time Turner repeatedly. She and Harry ran the risk of getting caught while rescuing buck beak and Sirius.

Even if they used it as you stated, there wouldn't have been any story. Rowling is the Queen of Harry Potter universe and its all at the mercy of her prejudices.

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They were destroyed.

In the scene in the Department of Ministries in OotP we hear that they are destroyed (this is from the book).

The baby-headed Death Eater was screaming and banging into things, toppling grandfather clocks and overturning desks, bawling and confused, while the glass cabinet that Harry now suspected had contained Time-Turners continued to fall, shatter, and repair itself on the wall behind them.


- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 35 (Beyond the Veil)

Later it is made apparent that they did indeed destroy all of the Time-Turners.

Ar, I always knew yeh’d find it hard ter squeeze me inter yeh timetables,” he said gruffly, pouring them more tea. “Even if yeh applied fer Time-Turners—”

“We couldn’t have done,” said Hermione. “We smashed the entire stock of Ministry Time-Turners when we were there in the summer. It was in the Daily Prophet.”


- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 11 (Hermione’s Helping Hand)

So they couldn't have used the time turner even if they wanted to.

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