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"Oh, Mom, can I go on the train and see him [Harry Potter], Mom, eh please...."
"You've already seen him, Ginny, and the poor boy isn't something you goggle at in a zoo. Is he really, Fred? How do you know?"
"Asked him. Saw his scar. It's really there - like lightning."
"Poor dear - no wonder he was alone, I wondered. He was ever so polite when he asked how to get onto the platform."
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

What does dear mean? (It seems an exclamation; yet it is after the adjective poor. It's not proper to call it. So it could be pointing "Harry Potter".)

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I can't find any online dictionary definitions exactly matching the intended sense here, but I'll just mention that OED has dear = Dear one, darling.

It's only loosely connected to the "exclamatory" version in "Oh dear! What can the matter be?"

Much more relevant is "Dear Fred" as the introduction to a letter. Rowling's usage is certainly common in BrE, particularly from mothers and grandmothers. Essentially, adjectival dear = cherished, valued, loved is being used as noun (one who is cherished, valued, loved).

Note that in this context, poor = unfortunate. "Poor dear!" is a common expression indicating sympathy and affection - often for a child (or someone being treated as a child), who is suffering in some way.

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  • "Dear John letter" is also an idiomatic expression referring to a break-up announcement, in which case the feelings of cherished, valued, and loved have apparently evaporated.
    – J.R.
    Apr 22, 2013 at 20:22
  • @J.R.: You're quite right! I'd already changed it from my original "Dear Sir" before I posted. I'll change it to a more context-relevant, less "idiomatically-loaded", name! Apr 22, 2013 at 20:42

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