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It took another hour to empty it completely, throw away the useless items and sort the remainder in piles according to whether or not he would need them from now on. His school and Quidditch robes, cauldron, parchment, quills and most of his textbooks were piled in a corner, to be left behind. He wondered what his aunt and uncle would do with them; burn them in the dead of night, probably, as if they were the evidence of some dreadful crime. His Muggle clothing, Invisibility Cloak, potion-making kit, certain books, the photograph album Hagrid had once given him, a stack of letters and his wand had been repacked into an old rucksack. In a front pocket were the Marauder's Map and the locket with the note signed "R.A.B" inside it. The locket was accorded this place of honour not because it was valuable - in all usual senses it was worthless - but because of what it had cost to attain it.

This left a sizeable stack of newspapers sitting on the desk beside his snowy owl, Hedwig: one for each of the days Harry had spent at Privet Drive this summer.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I don't understand the usage of 'this' in this context. What does it refer to?

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"This" is referring to what happened in the previous paragraph. Most commonly, "this" is used for things like ideas physical objects, e.g.:

"Look at this! It's a computer!"

"This is a very nice website."

Looking at Dictionary.com, the first definition of "this" is (emphasis added):

used to indicate a person, thing, idea, state, event, time, remark, etc., as present, near, just mentioned or pointed out, supposed to be understood, or by way of emphasis.

This is using "this" to refer to an event, describing a cause and effect. In writing, this isn't so rare, but when speaking in my experience "that" (which has an identical definition for this sense) is much more commonly used in the sense of mentioning an event that just happened than "this".

Some other examples of using it in this way:

"I wrote a good answer. This made the people of English Language Learners rejoice."

"He was hit in the face. This made him angry, so he hit the nearest person's face."

  • Yeah, I feel much more comfortable with 'that'. – dan Aug 20 at 21:48
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From the first paragraph we know that he got to 'throw away the useless items and sort the remainder in piles according to whether or not he would need them from now on'.

The following comes the first pile was 'His school and Quidditch robes, cauldron, parchment, quills and most of his textbooks' which would be left behind; the second pile was 'His Muggle clothing, Invisibility Cloak, potion-making kit, certain books, the photograph album Hagrid had once given him, a stack of letters and his wand', which were repacked by him; and the third pile was ' the Marauder's Map and the locket' which were placed in his front pocket.

Therefore I guess the 'This' you marked here just referred to another pile of his stuff.

  • Thank you very much! Now I got a clear picture of it. – dan Aug 20 at 21:50
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In this context "this" is referring to the actions of the previous paragraphs. In the preceding paragraphs Harry was cleaning up and sorting his possessions. After doing that, there was a stack of newspapers left over. In other words, "this" (the organizing) caused a stack of newspapers to be left over.

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