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Harry heard the hat shout the last word to the whole hall. He took off the hat and walked shakily toward the Gryffindor table. He was so relieved to have been chosen and not put in Slytherin, he hardly noticed that he was getting the loudest cheer yet. Percy the Prefect got up and shook his hand vigorously, while the Weasley twins yelled, "We got Potter! We got Potter!" Harry sat down opposite the ghost in the ruff he'd seen earlier. The ghost patted his arm, giving Harry the sudden, horrible feeling he'd just plunged it into a bucket of ice-cold water.
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

I don’t get where the ghost is, because not knowing what ‘opposite’ means. The word gives me the impression that the ghost is across the table, so it seems not possible for him to pat Harry. What does the word, opposite, mean in the example?

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    Why couldn't the ghost pat Harry on the arm if he's across the table? – Ken Bellows May 8 '13 at 13:15
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I think you are correct. Harry sat down across the table from the ghost, or perhaps across the aisle, though not enough context is given here to get that detailed. If they were sitting at lunch room style tables, then most likely Harry sat across the table from the ghost,as you suggested.

My question is, what's wrong with the ghost patting Harry on the arm if he's across the table? Most long tables are easily narrow enough to reach across and pat someone on the arm, especially if they have their arm resting on their side of the table, which is conceivable.

Also, just to put it out there, if he's a ghost, he could probably have phased through the table and sat right next to Harry had he wanted to. But that's utter speculation.

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    Exactly. This still from the movie series probably shows the sort of table JKR had in mind. – StoneyB on hiatus May 8 '13 at 22:03

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