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Mr Weasley gave a maniacal laugh; Mrs Weasley threw him a look, upon which he become immediately silent and assumed an expression appropriate to the sickbed of a close friend.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I don't quite get the meaning of "assumed an expression appropriate to the sickbed of a close friend". What's it supposed to mean? The part confuses me most is "the sickbed of a close friend".

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"Assume" can mean to take or begin to have something. The most commonly used definition, perhaps the one you are more familiar with - to make an assumption - means to take on an idea, without perhaps the requisite thought or evidence.

In your context, it means that the person "took on" a facial expression.

Saying someone assumed an expression rather than just saying they had one carries the idea that they deliberately made the facial expression, that perhaps it did not just come naturally, and done "for show" because of the situation they were in - by someone's sickbed. If you were by someone's sickbed, you wouldn't smile, would you? You'd "assume" a sympathetic face, either naturally, if you genuinely felt empathy, otherwise, you'd just force it because it was "appropriate".

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  • What about the part "the sickbed of a close friend"?
    – dan
    Sep 22, 2019 at 12:40
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    @dan If you were by someone's sickbed, you wouldn't smile, would you? You'd "assume" a sympathetic face, either naturally if you genuinely felt empathy, otherwise you'd just force it because it was "appropriate".
    – Astralbee
    Sep 22, 2019 at 12:42
  • I feel it should be the sickbed of a close friend's. Is there any difference between "the sickbed of a close friend" and "the sickbed of a close friend's"?
    – dan
    Sep 22, 2019 at 12:54
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    The sickbed of a close friend's is not idiomatic. That "double possessive" is not normally used only with an indefinite article, introducing a new object (eg A friend of my father's). When it refers to a definite object, we use the normal possessive (_eg my father's friend').
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 22, 2019 at 13:53
  • @ColinFine so, "a sickbed of a close friend's" would be idiomatic?
    – dan
    Sep 22, 2019 at 13:59

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