Turn to Page 394: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” Edition
“Turn to page 394” is one of the most iconic lines uttered by Professor Snape in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In this series of editorials, we’ll be following the professor’s instructions by turning to each page 394 in the Harry Potter series and delving into what lessons potentially await us on this seemingly random page number. Unfortunately, the first two books are not long enough to have a page 394, so our journey begins with Prisoner of Azkaban. We’re referencing the US hardcover editions, so if your editions have different content on page 394 we’d love to hear about it in the comments!
The classroom directive is delivered on page 171 like this:
‘Miss Granger,’ said Snape in a voice of deadly calm, ‘I was under the impression that I am teaching this lesson, not you. And I am telling you all to turn to page 394.’ He glanced around again. ‘All of you! Now!’
In the movie version of Prisoner of Azkaban, Alan Rickman executed this scene flawlessly, and in a way that would turn a simple classroom instruction into one of the most memorable sassy Snape comments.
On page 394, we meet Harry and Hermione at the exact moment they’ve been advised by Dumbledore, “Three turns should do it” and that if successful, they could “save more than one innocent life tonight.” Harry is full of confusion as Hermione tosses a thin gold chain around his neck and they get sucked into a backward time warp. When they land on solid ground, Harry notices that the nighttime sky that surrounded them in the hospital wing just moments ago has been replaced by golden sunlight. Hermione then explains what a Time-Turner is, how she got it, and how she’s been getting to her classes throughout the term.
Like most movies, books, and television shows that deal with time travel, the wise instructor (Dumbledore, in this case) advises that they must not be seen. But where Dumbledore’s instructions differ from most time travel entertainment is that they’re in service of Harry and Hermione going back in time to change things — and therefore alter the “future” along with it. Their mission is to save Buckbeak, then use Buckbeak to save Sirius, which seems fairly straightforward.
It seems that Dumbledore, Hermione, and Harry are all confronted with the age-old dilemma: Is it okay to break the rules or the law for a good cause? Two 13-year-olds choose to defy the Ministry of Magic, the space-time continuum, and Professor McGonagall’s guidelines to save two innocent lives. Meanwhile, they put everything at risk, encounter obstacle after obstacle, have to hide in shadows, face a werewolf, and think quickly on their feet at every turn.
Perhaps you’ve been in a situation where you were confronted with the same unnerving decision — is it okay to break the rules, or even a law, in order to bring about something good? There are probably a million different ways to ask and answer the question, and it all depends on who’s asking and who’s answering.
Is it okay to kill people in order to split your soul into seven pieces, therefore obtaining immortality?
Voldemort would answer, “Yes, because I don’t want to die. Better them than me.” And Harry would answer, “No, my life is no more valuable than anyone else’s.”
Is it okay to cheat on your Potions final in order to get a good grade?
Ron would answer, “Yes, because my mom would send another embarrassing Howler if I don’t pass.” Hermione would answer, “No, the grade wouldn’t be a proper reflection of how much I know.” (And Snape would answer, “Yes — I would love an excuse to fail you.”)
Of course, the golden trio are no strangers to breaking school rules and bending magical law, so misusing a magical tool given to Hermione for class schedule purposes only isn’t out of character for them.
Page 394 in Prisoner of Azkaban poses many other questions for readers as well — including the classic, “If you could go back in time, where would you go and what would you change?” You could voyage back to your own childhood and slip yourself a note with a valuable piece of advice that would change the trajectory of your life. You could travel back into history and stop a war from happening or open up the first Barnes & Noble before Mr. Barnes and Mr. Noble did. But whether it’s a huge and complicated or seemingly harmless change, you never know how it will affect the future world or the future you; the last thing you’d want on your conscience is changing something you’d regret or accidentally causing a domino effect of new chaos.
Thankfully, the changes Harry and Hermione make to the past do not have massive negative repercussions on the present or future. Their journey to the past only results in the positive outcomes of saving Buckbeak and Sirius. However, we would be curious to see what the wizarding world would look like had they used the Time-Turner to go back to warn the Order about Pettigrew, save James and Lily Potter, and finish off Voldemort themselves… but that also means that the whole story of Harry Potter would’ve ended before it even began.
If you had a Time-Turner, where and when would you go back to, and what would you change? Let us know in the comments, and stay tuned for page 394 in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.