How Does Harry Potter’s Time-Turner Actually Work? 

We examine how the Time-Turners of Harry Potter work.

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Updated

harry potter

There is no other series that fully captured the hearts of an entire generation the way that the Harry Potter books and movies did. Part of the reason for this is the captivating and magical aspects of the Harry Potter universe that set it apart from our own mundane world. J.K. Rowling introduced many magical items that grasped the imagination of Potterheads everywhere, and one of the most fascinating items is the Time-Turner—but how does this time-traveling necklace actually work?

The magic of time travel was first introduced in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Throughout Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s third year, Hermione is acting pretty strange and somehow manages to double book her schedule, something that truly perplexes Ron. 

By the end of the year, we find out that Hermione has been using a time-traveling necklace called a time-turner to allow her to travel back in time and be in two places at once. While Hermione is supposed to keep the time-turner a secret, Dumbledore instructs her and Harry Potter to use the device and go back three hours in order to save Sirius Black and Buckbeak from their executions. 

harry potter time-turner
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

While time travel is an interesting concept to include in children’s fantasy series like Harry Potter, and is a creative way for the Golden Trio to get themselves out of a pickle in year 3, inventing a device like the time-turner raises many questions that J.K. Rowling most likely wasn’t prepared to answer.

In fact, we learn very little about the time-turners in the series, and Rowling ends up destroying the rest of the time-turners owned by the Ministry of Magic at the end of Book 5, no doubt to try to resolve any plot holes time travel would likely create in the overall story. 

Still, from the little that she described, we can create inferences to try and understand how exactly time-turners work in the Harry Potter universe. Essentially, the time-turner is a tiny little hourglass connected to a chain the user wears around their neck.

The hourglass is charmed so that for every turn, it will be transported back by one hour, and the necklace is charmed so that any wearer (even multiple people wearing the same chain) will be transported through time and space with the hourglass.

harry potter time-turner

Time-turners were not considered playthings by the Ministry of Magic, and in fact, many witches and wizards in the Harry Potter universe were scared of the catastrophic consequences that could be brought on by the use of time-turners. For instance, if a time-turner fell into the wrong hands, it could mess up the timeline and even bring back Lord Voldemort. 

Because of this, the Ministry kept a tight hold on all time devices and kept them locked away in the Department of Mysteries. They also added hour-reversal charms to the devices, making sure that all time-turners had a maximum time travel capability of only five hours. 

The consequences that could arise from a time-turner falling into the wrong hands could be detrimental, so it makes sense that the Ministry of Magic would be strict about who they allowed to use one of these devices. Which is what makes it so strange that a 13-year-old student like Hermione is allowed to use one in order to take a couple of extra classes.

Sure, Hermione’s grades were better than Harry Potter’s or the rest of her classmates, but is that really enough for the Ministry of Magic to allow her to use such a powerful device when grown wizards and witches are denied the privilege?

This is just one of the plotholes that the time-turners introduce to the Harry Potter series, and while it seems strange that the Ministry allowed a 13-year-old access to some of the most powerful magic, it can be explained away by the fact that most of the Ministry was run by complete idiots anyway.

While some fans have wondered if the time-turners created additional plot holes, like why didn’t the trio travel back in time to kill Voldemort rather than having to go through the Horcrux scavenger hunt, this is also explained by the fact that time-turners are maxed out at a five-hour time-reversal.

Despite its inherent danger, the time-turner is a fascinating magical object that deserves to be explored in deeper detail (although not like it was in Cursed Child—that story is simply not canon, in our opinion). While we don’t know its exact science, it would be fascinating to learn more about how time works and how magic influences time in the Harry Potter universe.