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“I see you are not to be distracted. Very well, the Stone. Professor Quirrell did not manage to take it from you. I arrived in time to prevent that, although you were doing very well on your own, I must say.”

Source: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, published by Scholastic.

Sounds like a dialogue but it is still prose with proper punctuation. This is how I think the expression is parsed

I must say [this].

[This] = [I arrived in time to prevent that, although you were doing very well on your own]

So "I must say [this]" is a complex sentence with the clauses in bold (a complex sentence in themselves) function as an object of the verb phrase must say (I bet with an implied that)

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"I must say" is an mannerism used by some English speakers. It is used only for emphasis and has no real meaning on its own.

I must say, that Hermione Granger is an excellent student.

These are the best gluten-free chocolate cakes I have ever tasted, I must say!

"I must say" is a phrase that tends to be used by older people, who talk in a formal manner (like Dumbledore), and is probably more common in the UK than elsewhere. In narrative it gives some information about the character -- that the speaker is the kind of person who says "I must say" -- but otherwise can be ignored as unimportant to the meaning of what is being said.

In your example the emphasis is one of polite surprise. Dumbledore is both pleased and astonished that Harry survived his encounter with Quirrell, and "I must say" is his way of emphasizing that feeling.

(Edit) As Jason Bassford's comment says it's an interjection without meaning of its own. A character could even exclaim, "I must say!" by itself, and the only way to know the meaning is from the rest of the context:

Railway conductor: Lord Brumley, I'm afraid there's no more room in first class. You'll have to go back to second class.

Brumley: I must say!

Conductor: I'm terribly sorry but there's nothing to be done. The Queen and her staff have completely occupied all of the first class carriages.

Here Lord Brumley is expressing indignation at what he perceives as inferior treatment -- but we only know this by inference from the surrounding dialogue.

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  • Nice answer, Andrew. I need more clarification before I select it, though. If it is an expression of manner then it tells us about how the speaker feels about saying the whole sentence (or rest of it). So, can we say that the phrase "I must say" modifies the whole sentence? I get this way of thinking about what modifies a word or the whole of a sentence from studying absolute phrases and conjunctive adverbs. – learner May 23 '18 at 15:32
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    @learner As an expression, it has no syntactical meaning at all. Grammatically, consider it to be an interjection. It's just an utterance, like adding the rhetorical You know? after stating something. Or Yeah, that's the ticket. It refers back to what was previously said (a word, a phrase, a sentence) but it doesn't modify anything. – Jason Bassford May 23 '18 at 15:53
  • In fact, I have been reading through absolute phrases and interjections since I left the last comment. Both interjections and absolute phrases are drawn above the main sentence in the sentence diagram. However, absolutes modify the whole sentence while, well, interjections seemingly don't, as far as I can see from the quick reading on interjections from non-authoritative sources. I'd diagram the expression as I'd do with an interjection. Thanks Andrew. Edit: All the way, I though I was replying to Andrew, @JasonBassford, silly me. Thanks a lot, Jason. – learner May 23 '18 at 16:21
  • @learner I don't really pay much attention to grammar labels as such, since all too often certain words or phrases serve so many roles that they're difficult to classify without context. There are probably thousands of these kind of mannerisms in English that relate to the speaker's hometown, social standing, level of education, etc. -- but of course it's the same with any language. Where a polite Englishman would exclaim, "I do say!" a less polite one might say, "Are you taking the piss?" and an American would say, "Are you for real?" – Andrew May 23 '18 at 16:35
  • I forgot to thank you, @Andrew, about bringing up meaning or the lack thereof to parsing or diagramming sentences. I get consumed by syntax and overlook the big picture, the meaning. – learner May 23 '18 at 16:44
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I must say is an interjection for emphasis. What it emphasizes here is the opinion that "you were doing very well on your own" in keeping Quirrell from getting the stone. Normally what is emphasized is not a simple statement of fact but an explicit or implicit value judgment, and the emphasis is usually on the statement in an adjacent clause.

The sky is blue today, I must say! not likely without further context

The sky is very blue today, I must say! emphasizing "very blue"

P.S. Standing on its own in a conversation, it can be an expression of indignation or surprise.

That will be three pounds ten, please.
-- I must say!
Sir?
-- The price has gone up rather considerably since last week, hasn't it?

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