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In Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, when Mr. Weasley and Mr. Diggory are leading a group to the Quidditch World Cup, Mr. Weasly explains:

I believe there’s a handy wood they’re using as the Apparition point. For those who don’t want to Apparate, or can’t, we use Portkeys. They’re objects that are used to transport wizards from one spot to another at a prearranged time. You can do large groups at a time if you need to.

However, this happens at the end of Chapter 31, The Third Task:

“On three, right?” said Harry. “One — two — three —”

He and Cedric both grasped a handle.

Instantly, Harry felt a jerk somewhere behind his navel. His feet had left the ground. He could not unclench the hand holding the Triwizard Cup; it was pulling him onward in a howl of wind and swirling color, Cedric at his side.

So, how come the Triwizard Cup didn't transport the holder at a prearranged time, but at the first touch?

The canonical answer might be "you just put a charm so it will transport the first holder instantaneously", but if it was so easy/simple, many wizards would have done it to get to the World Cup before they were supposed to (or after! if they didn't want to wait for so many days...).

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2 Answers 2

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From the HP Wiki, I learned there are two types of portkeys:

  1. Touch-activated portkeys
  2. Time-activated portkeys.

Presumably, The portkey used during the World-cup was time-activated, analogous to public transport in the Muggle world!

As for the portkey that got Harry and Cedric to Little Hangleton, It was definitely touch-activated. Also I remember it was said that the first person to touch the Triwizard Cup would go to Little Hangleton and hence, Moody/Crouch Jr. made sure that Harry would be the first one to touch the Cup!

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I'm satisfied with the answer, even though this explanation contradicts Mr. Weasley, whom I respect very much. However, if the cup was time-activated, then I'm left with yet another question: why would it transport a person back to Hogwarts at a second touch? –  Janoma Feb 23 '12 at 1:25
    
Well, is it a one-way trip touch-activated portkey or multiple way trip? Here, what happens if while running from Voldemort, Harry yells Accio Cup, it arrives in his hand and he doesn't get transported? And, what happens if, well he got transported back, then at Hogwarts Cornelius Fudge picked up the cup and got transported to Voldemort instead? That would have saved a lot of time isn't it? –  Manik Sethisuwan May 24 '12 at 10:07
    
@Janoma - the Wiki isnt't really canon unless cited (which this one isn't) –  DVK Mar 13 at 17:54
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There are different portkey designs (Dumbledore used a portkey that was touch-activated as well, when he created one to escape the Ministry goons in OotP). Presumably, touch-activated ones are harder to create, but that's not fully supported by canon (just that only Dumbledore and Voldemort created them that I recall).

The World Cup portkeys functioned as as mass transpotation, and thus didn't need to be touch activated. Like a real bus - gotta get there on time

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Also, in the case of World Cup transportation you would not want anybody to be able to use them but only those who where privy to the precise time. I don't think one should be harder to create than the other, they just work better in different scenarios. –  Raphael Feb 19 '12 at 15:55
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If the World Cup portkeys were touch activated, it would be very hard indeed for several people using a single portkey! –  Hendrik Vogt Feb 19 '12 at 17:01
    
I tend to agree, but I thought that Dumbledore could have created the portkey to transport Harry one or two minutes after it was created, so he would have time to tell Harry some last set of instructions. –  Janoma Feb 19 '12 at 17:04
    
Did Dumbledore create a portkey to escape the ministry goons in OotP? I thought it was Fawkes that got him out of there? –  AlasdairCM Feb 20 '12 at 13:02
    
@AlasdairCM - I distinctly remember him creating a portkey. I'm a lot less sure of when he did it. –  DVK Feb 20 '12 at 13:38
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