46

I wonder why would anyone need a Portkey when there's a possibility to Apparate?

I was thinking that some would not be able to Apparate since they have no license, I asked about it here, thinking that there is a bigger consideration on who gets approved and who doesn't (e.g. you were caught doing dark magic/your parents are Death Eaters, and the MoM does not trust you with this power), but apparently, it is only enough to be able to do it while being tested (correct me if you think otherwise).

Why would they need to use a Portkey? I thought about some reasons but it can easily be dismissed.

  • Passing the tests: Assuming that sooner or later most of the wizards and witches are able to pass the test, and if not, I guess their skills are limited, and maybe they are not even able to create a Portkey.

  • In that case, having someone else create a Portkey for your own usage: if the other wizard can create it for you, he most probably can Apparate, and take you with him. Wouldn't that be so much easier? (So yes, there's a possibility he will create it for your own needs for later use, but that is a minor example, I can live with that).

  • If you can both Apparate and create a Portkey, why would you use a technique that requires preparation, rather than just use magic that works in a blink of an eye?

  • Security: some places, the easiest example is Hogwarts, are protected against Apparition. I am sure it is pretty easy to make sure a place is protected against the use of Portkeys as well.

Are there any limitations I did not include?

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    It's comparable to driving in the real world: you need a licence and you have to pass a test, which you don't have to do to be a passenger on a bus, train or plane. And in the real world, driving is less safe than travelling by train or plane. I can drive and I have a car, but if I'm going on a long journey I prefer to go by train because it's safer and less stressful. – Wallnut Jun 25 at 10:34
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    They've also got the option of The Knight Bus (don't recall seeing any bits that specify if there's just the one bus or a number of identical buses) – SpacePhoenix Jun 25 at 11:44
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    If you're underage...? – Voldemort's Wrath Jun 25 at 13:46
  • I am sure it is pretty easy to make sure a place is protected against the use of Portkeys as well” In that case, certain wizards should get kicked in the butt for missing that opportunity in case of Hogwarts. Besides that, Apparating has a limited range. – Holger Jun 26 at 9:49
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    Why would anyone even use a bus? – Thomas Jun 26 at 10:02
72

Because not all wizards can Apparate and so their choice is often limited to Portkeys for ease of travel in certain circumstances as J.K. Rowling elaborates on here:

Wizards who cannot Apparate (dematerialise and reappear at will), who wish to travel by daylight (meaning that broomsticks, Thestrals, flying cars and dragons are inappropriate), or whose destination has no fireplace (rendering Floo powder useless) will have to resort to the use of a Portkey.

Pottermore, Writings by J.K. Rowling, Portkeys

Mrs Weasley elaborates further on this and states that most people don't bother with it because it is dangerous.

"Oh yes," said Mr. Weasley matter-of-factly. "But they got a heavy fine, and I don't think they'll be trying it again in a hurry. You don't mess around with Apparition. There are plenty of adult wizards who don't bother with it. Prefer brooms - slower, but safer."

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 6, "The Portkey"

It's also worth noting that when travelling in a group of people who haven't passed the test a Portkey would seem more reasonable and easy to use compared to Appirition. When travelling to the Quidditch World Cup they used a Portkey because most of them hadn't passed the test. I think it's implied that taking someone with you when Apparating is hard to do so taking a whole group would require multiple trips or be very dangerous.

"So they're still in bed?" said Fred grumpily, pulling his bowl of porridge toward him. "Why can't we Apparate too?"

"Because you're not of age and you haven't passed your test," snapped Mrs. Weasley. "And where have those girls got to?"

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 6, "The Portkey"

To further the point about it being dangerous, splinching can happen and cause a great deal of pain if Apparating isn't done properly. Portkeys might make one nauseous but that's a lot deal better than missing a leg or half of yourselves.

Not until the fourth did anything exciting happen. There was a horrible screech of pain and everybody looked around, terrified, to see Susan Bones of Hufflepuff wobbling in her hoop with her left leg still standing five feet away where she had started.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 18, "Birthday Surprises"

"You have to pass a test to Apparate?" Harry asked.

"Oh yes," said Mr. Weasley, tucking the tickets safely into the back pocket of his jeans. "The Department of Magical Transportation had to fine a couple of people the other day for Apparating without a license. It's not easy, Apparition, and when it's not done property it can lead to nasty complications. This pair I'm talking about went and splinched themselves."

Everyone around the table except Harry winced.

"Er - splinched?" said Harry.

"They left half of themselves behind," said Mr. Weasley, now spooning large amounts of treacle onto his porridge. "So, of course, they were stuck. Couldn't move either way. Had to wait for the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad to sort them out. Meant a fair old bit of paperwork, I can tell you, what with the Muggles who spotted the body parts they'd left behind..."

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 6, "The Portkey"

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    I would add that portkeys allow people to travel to places they never went before while Apparating needs you to picture your destination. So Portkey isn't necessarily a thing you use for yourself but more a very good way to help people come to you. – Echox Jun 26 at 7:41
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    @Echox I was thinking the same thing. I could see its uses in "magical tourism", where instead of having buses that takes groups to interesting landmarks you could simply use portkeys. It could also be useful for secretive work, where you can conceal the portkey and let the other person know where it is without them knowing where they've been taken by it. – DoctorPenguin Jun 26 at 7:47
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    And even if you passed the test, what if you're drinking with buddies at home before the game. You don't want to drink & Apparate - so you can use the port key 😃 - expand drunk to tired, sick, overworked,... – Falco Jun 27 at 9:35
  • For the Quidditch World Cup, it wasn't just because the children hadn't passed their test. (Remember that Side-Along Apparition exists.) For the event organisers, it ensured that everyone arrived safely in a known location, instead of randomly apparating throughout the site. ISTR their tickets were checked too. – Graham Jun 27 at 10:25
18

Because it's safer to use a Portkey rather than to Apparate.

It has been established that witches and wizards sometimes splinch themselves while Apparating.

There was a horrible screech of pain and everybody looked around, terrified, to see Susan Bones of Hufflepuff wobbling in her hoop with her left leg still standing five feet away where she had started.

While it is unknown why some people are actually hurt from a splinch and others are not, the possibility of acquiring a mortal wound while doing something as simple as Apparating is likely to put some wizards off.

Passing the tests: Assuming that sooner or later most of the wizards and witches are able to pass the test, and if not, I guess their skills are limited, and maybe they are not even able to create a Portkey.

In that case, having someone else create a Portkey for your own usage: if the other wizard can create it for you, he most probably can Apparate, and take you with him. Wouldn't that be so much easier? (So yes, there's a possibility he will create it for your own needs for later use, but that is a minor example, I can live with that).

Yes, a wizard that is unable to Apparate by himself could surely request the help of another. But there's a thing about Portkeys: they have deadlines as to when they are activated. Let's say you get someone to create a Portkey for you at a certain time. But some unforeseen circumstance prevents you from getting there at that time and the Portkey disappears before you are even there to use it. You can see this when Hagrid almost misses the hairbrush Portkey in book 7.

'Hagrid!' said Ted Tonks warningly, as the hairbrush glowed bright blue, and Hagrid only just got his forefinger to it in time.

If you can both Apparate and create a Portkey, why would you use a technique that requires preparation, rather than just use magic that works in a blink of an eye?

Apparation is not 100% foolproof as we are led to believe by Dumbledore's flawless teleportations. It's a process that requires a lot of practice, skill and focus. For the average wizard I think it's safe to say that there may be a few hiccups there and then when it comes to Apparation.

I believe JK Rowling is implying just that when she wrote this article on Pottermore:

Wizards who cannot Apparate (dematerialise and reappear at will), who wish to travel by daylight (meaning that broomsticks, Thestrals, flying cars and dragons are inappropriate), or whose destination has no fireplace (rendering Floo powder useless) will have to resort to the use of a Portkey.

Almost any inanimate object can be turned into a Portkey. Once bewitched, the object will transport anyone who grasps it to a pre-arranged destination. A Portkey may also be enchanted to transport the grasper (or graspers) only at a given time. In this way, the arrivals and departures of great numbers of witches and wizards can be staggered, enabling such events such as the Quidditch World Cup to take place with few security breaches.

Pottermore article about Portkeys


Bottom-line:

From the quote it's pretty clear she's trying to say that Apparation, when performed, at least, by the average wizard, is definitely not 100% foolproof, assuming, of course, that they can Apparate in the first place. And if they can't: Portkeys would still be the safest answer.

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    You stress that for portkeys: "they have deadlines as to when they are activated." However, you later quote JK Rowling saying "A Portkey may also be enchanted to transport the grasper (or graspers) only at a given time." We also have evidence in the books that portkeys don't require time triggers (e.g. the Triwizard Cup at the end of GoF). So, while I agree that a potkey can have a time requirement to being triggered, it's not required (your text indicates that they always have deadlines). – Makyen Jun 25 at 20:43
  • @Makyen A fair point. I have not perused the books in a long time and I hadn't really thought of the Triwizard cup. – Mat Cauthon Jun 26 at 1:45
17

As an added answer.

Portkeys can go longer distances than Apparition. You cannot apparate inter-continental safely, it is simply too far.

Apparition has a range-limit, and becomes increasingly difficult with the distance to be travelled. Inter-continental Apparition should only be attempted by the most highly skilled of wizards, otherwise risking splinching, severe injury, and death. Apparition requires great knowledge of the place the wizard wants to visit, as they need to be able to visualise it clearly. Harry Potter Wiki

Here another source:

Apparition becomes more difficult as distance increases. Only highly trained wizards would try intercontinental Apparition (QA9). According to the WOMBAT Test there may even be a law against it (JKR-W3) https://www.hp-lexicon.org/magic/apparition/

So for a lot of Witches and Wizards Portkey is safer and easier than risking splinching or worse death.

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    The Wiki is generally not considered a reliable source here. Do you have any primary sources? – TheAsh Jun 26 at 18:38
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    Not sure if its completely accurate, but I always imagined there were limitations to how far one could apparate due to the fact that there is an non-insignificant amount of time that Voldemort spends travelling to and from far away places in the 7th book. – ssell Jun 26 at 21:22
11

Mr. Weasley explicitly explains the purpose and advantages of Portkeys in Chapter Six of Goblet of Fire:

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. There have been two hundred Portkeys placed at strategic points around Britain, and the nearest one to us is up at the top of Stoatshead Hill, so that’s where we’re headed.”

So at the simplest level, people would use portkeys when they can’t or don’t want to apparate. And portkeys can easily transport large groups, and it is easier to arrange portkeys at strategic points than to arrange for qualified wizards to help others Apparate. Earlier in the same Chapter Mr. Weasley alludes to why people can’t or won’t Apparate:

It’s not easy, Apparition, and when it’s not done properly it can lead to nasty complications.

Basically, it is too difficult for many people, and it is also risky. Portkeys have neither of those downsides.

Perhaps most importantly, Apparition is apparently one of the most unpleasant sensations a wizard can experience. In Chapter Four of Half-Blood Prince we get the first description of Apparition:

Harry felt Dumbledore’s arm twist away from him and redoubled his grip; the next thing he knew, everything went black; he was being pressed very hard from all directions; he could not breathe, there were iron bands tightening around his chest; his eyeballs were being forced back into his head; his eardrums were being pushed deeper into his skull and then —

He gulped great lungfuls of cold night air and opened his streaming eyes. He felt as though he had just been forced through a very tight rubber tube. It was a few seconds before he realized that Privet Drive had vanished. He and Dumbledore were now standing in what appeared to be a deserted village square, in the center of which stood an old war memorial and a few benches. His comprehension catching up with his senses, Harry realized that he had just Apparated for the first time in his life.

”Are you all right?” asked Dumbledore, looking down at him solicitously. “The sensation does take some getting used to.”

”I’m fine,” said Harry, rubbing his ears, which felt as though they had left Privet Drive rather reluctantly. “But I think I might prefer brooms. . . .”

Later in the same chapter the unpleasantness is mentioned again:

Braced this time, Harry was ready for the Apparition, but still found it unpleasant.

In Chapter Seventeen when the students are about to learn how to Apparate, Harry tells them that it is unpleasant:

“I dunno,” said Harry. “Maybe it’s better when you do it yourself, I didn’t enjoy it much when Dumbledore took me along for the ride.”

All of them seemed awed, rather than put off, when he told them how uncomfortable it was,

With this in mind it is hardly surprising that people prefer not to Apparate. Indeed, no less a wizard than Dumbledore prefers other forms of travel at times, according to Hagrid in Chapter Twenty-One of Order of the Phoenix:

’Course, this lot don’ get a lot o’ work, it’s mainly jus’ pullin’ the school carriages un- less Dumbledore’s takin’ a long journey an’ don’ want ter Apparate — an’ here’s another couple, look —”

Now, of course, even those who don’t like Apparating may use it at times because of its convenience. Indeed, Harry spends much of Deathly Hallows Apparating. But portkeys match the convenience of Apparating without the terrible discomfort. If a portkey is available it is perfectly understandable that even someone who could Apparate would take it.

  • Portkeys also match the discomforts of Apparition. :) The sensation of travelling by Portkey is universally agreed to be uncomfortable, if not downright unpleasant, and can lead to nausea, giddiness and worse. -Pottermore It's also stated somewhere in the series, but I can't put my finger on the quote. – Mat Cauthon Jun 25 at 13:26
  • Being giddy isn't necessarily a bad thing. ;) – FreeMan Jun 26 at 14:48
10

Not a common reason perhaps, but Portkeys can also hide the destination until a point in time. To use Apparition you need to know where you are going, but you can have everyone meet in an undisclosed location if you use a timed Portkey, limiting the number of people who could reveal it.

9

Why do some people occasionally use a taxicab when they have a car and a driver's license?

Apparition requires a lot of skill and focus, and can be dangerous if you are not careful. This means there are some obvious cases when one would use a portkey instead of Apparition:

  • You are tired, exhausted, or drunk. You keep a portkey to your home on your person, for such an occasion.
  • You are ambushed, or just get into any dangerous situation and are disoriented, and you have to get away quickly. It might be plausible that it's faster and safer to just pull out an emergency portkey from your pocket, than to try to think about where to Apparate, and form a mental image about the location, focus on it carefully, in a state of panic and disorientation.
  • You travel as a big group, you want to arrive together, and maybe some members of the group weren't there before (as far as I know, you can't Apparate to places you've never been to, or at least don't know about)
6

Because you need to know where you're going to Apparate. A Portkey can be pre-set with a destination, so you just have to grab it and wham you're there.

  • Whilst true it is worth noting that the person creating the Portkey needs to have at least a vague idea of where they are going. – TheLethalCarrot Jun 26 at 9:20
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    Quite true, @TheLethalCarrot, but if you don't know where the Quiddich World Cup is being held this year, (or, more likely, where the best "parking" is), you just grab hold of the portkey and all is take care of. – FreeMan Jun 26 at 14:49
5

Most answers focus on portkeys being safer. A couple answers also mention that portkeys do not require the traveller to know where they are going beforehand.

Let me add a couple more reasons to use portkeys:

  • It is much easier to take a lot of people together with you. This can be seen when the gang travels to see the Quidditch games by use of portkey. In comparison, when Dumbledore took Harry to a trip via apparition, Harry was much more discombobulated.

  • Muggles cannot apparate. So if you wish to have a muggle go anywhere magically without you, preparing a portkey may be necessary.

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