The door swung open at once. A tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes stood there. She had a very stern face and Harry's first thought was that this was not someone to cross.
"The firs' years, Professor McGonagall," said Hagrid.
"Thank you, Hagrid. I will take them from here."
She pulled the door wide. The entrance hall was so big you [A] could have fit the whole of the Dursleys' house in it. The stone walls were lit with flaming torches like the ones at Gringotts, the ceiling was too high to make out, and a magnificent marble staircase facing them led to the upper floors.
They followed Professor McGonagall across the flagged stone floor. Harry could hear the drone of hundreds of voices from a doorway to the right –– the rest of the school must already be here –– but Professor McGonagall showed the first years into a small, empty chamber off the hall. They crowded in, standing rather closer together than they [B] would usually have done, peering about nervously.
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, pp.113-4)

When I interpret [A] into my own language, I’m urged to add an intensifier onto the phrase - this intensifier is a suffix () which intensifies a case that has an unexpected or exceptional property. So I get a curiosity whether the English, could have fit, really has the intensifying meaning. If it has, does it come from the structure - doubly remoted construction: could + have + p.p. - itself or from the context? (When I look at this, [B] would usually have done, this seems not have the intensifying meaning.)

  • I don't see anything unexpected or exceptional about it. IMHO, it's just ordinary comparison with hypothetical scenarios.
    – Kinzle B
    Jul 6 '14 at 1:32

I think [A] is an exaggeration, as indicated by "so big". "How big?" "It's so big that you could have fit the whole of the Dursleys' house in it." I'm not sure how the suffix (도) works in Korean, though I think it's up to the translator to use his or her judgement whether to add such an intensifier. (I would consider to add some if I were to translate it into my first language.)

The case of [B] is different. It's just a normal backshift. If it were written in the present tense, it would be, "They crowd in, standing rather closer together than they would usually do, peering about nervously."


It in most part refers to an action in the past that did or did not happen, either because of impossibility/hypothesis or choice.

I could have helped, but I didn't. She shouldn't have stolen the money, but she did. We must have taken the wrong path, as it's taking too long to arrive.

Though it's use here in the story, in both examples, is to intensify the information you have, thus helping you imagine exactly what the author wants you to feel.

Hope this helps!

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