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In GoF, Harry touches the port key and is immediately transported back to Hogwarts. But why did the port key function immediately?

During the world cup they had to wait for a specific time that the port key worked and IIRC, in HBP, Dumbledore's port key didn't work immediately as well.

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One Portkey was a trap, the others weren't

  1. The Portkey that took people to the World Cup was at a decent risk of being touched, at some point, by a Muggle (unlikely though that would be). If it had been enchanted like the Cup Portkey, and this happened, the person touching it would be transported to the World Cup site, which would constitute a serious breach of the Statute of Secrecy.

    “What sort of objects are Portkeys?” said Harry curiously. “Well, they can be anything,” said Mr. Weasley. “

    “Unobtrusive things, obviously, so Muggles don’t go picking them up and playing with them . . . stuff they’ll just think is litter. . . .”

    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

    Clearly keeping Portkeys safe from Muggles is a priority.

  2. The Portkeys that Dumbledore made in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was something that Dumbledore later picked up.

    Without a warm-up period, Dumbledore would have been transported, not the Portkeys' intended users. Indeed, for all we know, all Portkeys have a warm-up period.

The Portkey in the maze, though, was a trap.

Crouch Junior could not know when Harry would reach the cup. He could take out other competitors and ensure they did not reach it first, but he could not be sure (at the time he enchanted the Cup) when Harry would touch it. So he ensorcelled it to activate whenever someone touched it.

  • did JKR say something that supports your hypothesis? Or did she never elaborate how portkeys work? – Armin May 26 '16 at 9:42
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    @Armin - Kind of the latter. But we know Portkeys can work two ways, because we have seen it. My answer explains why. – Adamant May 26 '16 at 9:43
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Portkey of the World Cup

The portkey of the World Cup is designed to transport a lot of people; the Weasley family, Harry, Hermione and Diggory (father and son), and we read that two other families live in the sector of this portkey.

10 or more people must touch something like a boot at exactly the same time? Not very useful, it needs a lot of synchronisation (and, as Obie says, a muggle could touch it).

That explains why this portkey needs to wait, it's programmed for several people at one definite time.

The portkey in the maze

Crouch Junior doesn't know when Harry will find the portkey.

He can destroy the obstacle and use Imperio to make sure others don't reach the center at the same time (Krum knocks out Fleur and attacks Cedric, but Harry stops him), and a portkey with an immediate activation is the best solution.

Voldemort probably planned to send Harry's body back with a magical beast wound (to mask the real cause of death). That explains why the portkey can go back too.

Bonus: Theory I read once

Voldemort planned to come back to Hogwarts with Harry's appearance.

He can spy on Dumbledore and the teachers, recruits students, kill Dumbledore and other enemies and take Hogwarts.

During this time Death Eaters can prepare to take over the Ministry.

Voldemort can come back with Ministry and Hogwarts in his pocket, Dumbledore and Harry dead. I don't think the British wizards would resist much after something like that.

And that explains why the portkey can come back to Hogwarts. (Yes, I like this theory, but I can't remember where I found it)

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