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“Ready, are you?”

It was Uncle Vernon, still purple-faced, still mustached, still looking furious at the nerve of Harry, carrying an owl in a cage in a station full of ordinary people. Behind him stood Aunt Petunia and Dudley, looking terrified at the very sight of Harry.

“You must be Harry’s family!” said Mrs. Weasley.

“In a manner of speaking,” said Uncle Vernon. “Hurry up, boy, we haven’t got all day.” He walked away.

Harry hung back for a last word with Ron and Hermione.

“See you over the summer, then.”

“Hope you have — er — a good holiday,” said Hermione, looking uncertainly after Uncle Vernon, shocked that anyone could be so unpleasant.

-- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

What does "look after" in the context mean? Is she looking at the back of Uncle Vernon?

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I believe Hermione wasn't certain that Harry was going to have good holidays going by his Uncle's shocking rudeness but still wished him nevertheless.

"Looking after" in the context means that she was looking at Harry's Uncle while wishing Harry goodbye and hence that implied pause ( — er — ) in her chain of thoughts and that in effect gave her that uncertain feeling.

  • So this 'after' means: following the actions or departure of (someone) ▪ She called/shouted after him as he walked away. [=she called/shouted at/toward him as he walked away] [Webster's: after [preposition] #5](learnersdictionary.com/search/after) – Listenever Aug 23 '13 at 5:23
  • In other words, it means "in the direction of", or am I wrong? – Paola Aug 23 '13 at 6:14
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    @Paola It means in that direction but as he walked away. We also say her look followed him in these circumstances, which is the same metaphor. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 23 '13 at 15:04
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“Hope you have — er — a good holiday,” said Hermione, looking uncertainly after Uncle Vernon, shocked that anyone could be so unpleasant.

I'd accept Mopit's response as being good but I have a slightly different take on it though I think we end up at the same point down the river.

Hermione was 'Looking uncertain' after 'Uncle Vernon'. In most cases 'before' and 'after' are used to position things in sequence. Before noon; after you go to the bank; after you eat dinner. So the general form ends up being: After (event).

In this case I would say that the 'event' was Uncle Vernon. So to say she was looking uncertain after Uncle Vernon is to say that she was looking uncertain after whatever it was that Uncle Vernon did that made him a remarkable event in the scene. In this case what he said and did:

“In a manner of speaking,” said Uncle Vernon. “Hurry up, boy, we haven’t got all day.” He walked away.

The only time I can think of anyone 'looking after' having a different sort of meaning is when its used in place of take care of.

Sally's dad left her to look after her new born baby sister while he went to the store.

This is clearly NOT the usage in question, as I am quite certain that Hermione had no desire to take care of Uncle Vernon.

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Zeppie's possible interpretation of looking uncertain disregards the fact that uncertain is an adjective which, in this context, would describe Hermione (the noun), whereas uncertainly is an adverb that describes how she was looking (the active verb, as in he's looking frantically, and not the passive verb, as in he's looking frantic.) We have only the words written on the page, and must therefore try to interpret their meaning based on how they are specifically used.

Simply put, she was looking at Uncle Vernon with uncertainty after he left.

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