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What is a Portkey?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A portkey is a magical item in the Harry Potter novels which is used as a method of transportation. When a wizard's bare skin makes contact with a portkey, he or she will be transported to a predetermined location. Because the creation of a portkey is advanced magic, and unauthorized portkeys could lead to serious problems, they are regulated by the Department of Magical Transportation. The sentence for making an unauthorized portkey is never addressed in the novels, but various characters in the books suggest that it may be quite severe.

Usually, simple objects which could be mistaken for trash or discarded belongs are used for portkeys, such as old shoes. The wizard uses the portus spell to turn the object into a portkey, which can be used in one of two ways. In one instance, the first person to touch the portkey will be transported. In another, the portkey will be set to activate at a particular time, which may be a few moments from the time of creation, or at any time in the future. This type of portkey can be used to transport multiple wizards at once, because they can all grab onto it and wait for the appointed time to arrive.

According to descriptions of portkey travel in the Harry Potter novels, using a portkey feels like being picked up with a hook and whirled around until the wizard lets go at the final destination. Experienced wizards who are familiar with portkey travel appear able to land in a dignified fashion, while others are sent sprawling. Like some other methods of magical travel, using a portkey appears to be rather uncomfortable, and it is unlikely to be used as a common choice, especially since portkeys can only made by authorized individuals.

The most widespread use of portkeys in the Harry Potter novels is in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where they are used to transport large groups of witches and wizards for the Quidditch World Cup. In this instance, portkeys make a practical and organized method of transportation, because they can be set to activate at different times, staggering arrivals and preventing a deluge of wizards arriving all at the same time. Portkeys are also useful for underage witches and wizards, because they require no magical action from the user. At several points, Albus Dumbledore also makes an unauthorized portkey, at one point right in front of the Minister of Magic.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Frances2 — On Jul 03, 2011

Here are some other facts about portkeys (from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). They glow blue. If you don’t touch a timed one before it activates completely, it will arrive at its destination without you.

If you watch a portkey arrive at its destination, you’ll see a blue light appear and grow larger and brighter until the portkey and its travelers appear at that point.

By smartypantz — On Jul 02, 2011

As an avid Harry Potter fan, I would like to add a little more to the description of what it feels like to travel by portkey. In the novels, it feels like you’re being tugged through the darkness by a hook behind your belly button. You’re jostled around as you hurtle through space. If more than one person is traveling with the same portkey, you can see each other, and might even bump into each other. Your finger becomes glued to the portkey and you can’t pull it free until you’ve arrived at your destination.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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