Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Time

By J.K. Rowling

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"I mean, you're good Hermione, but no one's that good. How're you supposed to be in three classes at once?"

"Don't be silly," said Hermione shortly. "Of course I won't be in three classes at once." (6.1.20-1)

Hermione's Time-Turner mystery is at the heart of the book, and especially at the heart of the its theme of time. So what does Hermione's Time-Turner tell us about time as a theme? Well, we'd argue, a whole lot. In this instance, at least, Ron asks how she's supposed to do three things at once. And the answer we learn is – not all that well. Hermione is totally burned out by the end of this novel, proving that there are 24 hours in each day for a reason.

Then he stood up, stretched, and checked the time on the luminous alarm clock on his bedside table.

It was one o'clock in the morning. Harry's stomach gave a funny jolt. He had been thirteen years old, without realizing it, for a whole hour. (1.24-25)

Harry has a very strong awareness of the passage of time here, since it's his birthday. It's significant that this scene pretty much kicks off the novel for us – time is an important aspect of this story from the get-go.

"I reckon he's lost track of time, being on the run," said Ron. "Didn't realize it was Halloween. Otherwise he'd have come bursting in here." (9.1.12)

Like any good mystery novel, this one leaves us clues. We get multiple clues about the "timing" of Sirius's attacks. Either Sirius has lost track of time, as Ron suggests, or he's the most inept villain ever (or he's not after Harry at all, but that's another story). Sirius actually has a freakishly accurate sense of time – when we finally meet him, it's clear that he's acutely aware of the time he has lost ,among other things.

"How are you getting through all this stuff?" Harry asked her.

"Oh, well – you know – working hard," said Hermione. Close-up, Harry saw that she looked almost as tired as Lupin. (12.5.61-2)

If Harry fights fear throughout the novel, then Hermione fights time. The comparison of Hermione to Lupin is really interesting. Lupin is always described as looking exhausted and aged beyond his years. This really hammers home just how tired Hermione is.

Fred and George disappeared for a couple of hours and returned with armfuls of bottles of butterbeer, pumpkin fizz, and several bags full of Honeydukes sweets.

"How did you do that?" squealed Angelina Johnson as George started throwing Peppermint Toads into the crowd.

"With a little help from Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs," Fred muttered in Harry's ear. (13.3.1-3)

It's interesting that the Map gives the gift of time and freedom to whoever owns it. For all the trouble it causes, the Map is closely tied to positive themes in the novel, such as freedom, good memories, etc.

Back into Honeydukes, back down the cellar steps, across the stone floor, through the trapdoor – Harry pulled of his cloak, tucked it under his arm, and ran, flat out, along the passage [...] Malfoy would get back first [...] how long would it take him to find a teacher? (14.3.40)

The style here is great – we get a series of increasingly rushed clauses starting with prepositions, and then shifting to verbs. This passage really conveys Harry's frantic rush back to the school.

"Goin' through a rough time at the moment. Bitten off more'n she can chew, if yeh ask me, all the work she's tryin' to do. Still found time to help me with Buckbeak's case, mind [...]" (14.1.38)

Hermione is once again most closely tied to the theme of time here and to the idea of trying to find more time. So it's fitting that, by the novel's end, she's confronted with the real limits of time.

"What? Oh no!" Hermione squeaked. "I forgot to go to Charms!"

"But how could you forget? said Harry. "You were with us till we were right outside the classroom!" (15.2.35-6)

Too bad Hermione didn't have an iCalendar with some alarms on it. It's interesting that this is one of the few times that Harry, rather than Ron, verbalizes Hermione's mysterious behavior.

"Only if we're more than fifty points up, Harry, or we win the match but lose the Cup. You've got that, haven't you? You must catch the Snitch only if we're – "

"I KNOW, OLIVER!" Harry yelled. (15.3.6-7)

The Quidditch final introduces another element of the time theme to us: timing. The Quidditch match served as a primer for the ultimate timing test: Harry and Hermione's down-to-the-second rescue of Buckbeak, their past selves (trippy!), and Sirius.

"If you're going to tell the story, get a move on, Remus," snarled Black, who was still watching Scabbers's every desperate move. "I've waited twelve years, I'm not going to wait much longer." (18.26)

Sirius's understandable lack of patience and his awareness of how many years he's lost are defining character traits.

"What we need," said Dumbledore slowly, and his light blue eyes moved from Harry to Hermione, "is more time." (21.80)

Once again, Hermione is most strongly identified with the idea of time here. We're surprised Dr. Who doesn't swoop in and try to reclaim his title at this point.

Hermione turned the hourglass three times.

The dark ward dissolved. Harry had the sensation that he was flying very fast, backward. A blur of colors and shapes rushed past him, his ears were pounding, he tried to yell but he couldn't hear his own voice –.

And then he felt solid ground beneath his feet, and everything came into focus again. (21.93-5).

The description of time travel is really fantastic here – there's a huge emphasis on sensory experience. We hear about sight, sound, and the crazy physical feelings that accompany time travel – it's like a super intense roller coaster ride. Done backwards. Props to Hermione for doing that a few times a day all freaking year.

"No!" said Hermione. "If we steal [Buckbeak] now, those Committee people will think Hagrid set him free! We've got to wait until they've seen he's tied outside!"

"That's going to give us about sixty seconds," said Harry. This was starting to seem impossible. (21.139-40)

We really enjoyed reading about Harry and Hermione working together during the time travel adventure chapter. Hermione brings the logic and the attention to detail (and time) here; Harry puts the plan into action, like Jack Bauer racing against the clock.

Harry watched the grass flatten in patches all around the cabin and heard three pairs of feet retreating. He, Ron, and Hermione had gone [...] but the Harry and Hermione hidden in the trees could now hear what was happening inside the cabin through the back door. (21.161)

A huge part of the time travel adventure is the idea of perception. Going through things the second time around, Harry and Hermione see and hear and learn things that they hadn't initially. This is really fitting since the entire novel is about dealing with the past – by revisiting it, you learn new things and can then put it all aside and move on.

"How can you stand this?" he asked Hermione fiercely. "Just standing here and watching it happen?" He hesitated. "I'm going to grab the cloak!"

"Harry, no!"

Hermione seized the back of Harry's robes not a moment too soon. Just then they heard a burst of song. It was Hagrid, making his way up to the castle. (21.225-227)

Harry and Hermione engage in the classic debate of whether or not you would, or should, change time if you had the chance. The novel itself seems to agree with Hermione here, given the close call with Hagrid.

They watched the four men climb the steps and disappear from view. For a few minutes the scene was deserted. Then –" (21.218)

The diction here emphasizes how the time travel adventure is sort of like watching a play. Words like "scene" and even "then" let us know how a story is unfolding before Harry and Hermione, who are basically watching from the woods like an audience.

"Hermione – what'll happen – if we don't get back inside – before Dumbledore locks the door?" Harry panted.

"I don't want to think about it!" Hermione moaned, checking her watch again. "One minute!" (22.1.12-13)

As Back to the Future taught us, messing around with time can be very dangerous. Here, Harry and Hermione risk screwing up their own time loop.

"Hasn't your experience with the Time-Turner taught you anything, Harry? The consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed [...]" (22.3.42)

This book definitely focuses a ton on the past, but there's also a lot about the future here. Hence, a thematic focus on time itself. Most of our forays into the future are also journeys into the ridiculous, courtesy of quack Professor Trelawney. But Dumbledore, who acts like he's guest-starring on The Universe or an episode of Fringe, points out that Trelawney's profession is actually a tough one. Predicting the future is very hard since it requires accurately reading human behavior. Oddly enough, Hermione is a better predictor of future events, given her intelligence and her perceptiveness, than Trelawney is.

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