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In chapter 10 of Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore makes a claim that I can't parse (emphasis mine):

I do not believe that her magical powers appeared to their best advantage when she was being terrorized by her father.

How do I read this? The "their" in the sentence suggests that the subject is "her magical powers", but then what is the "best advantage" that he's talking about? Advantage over/to what? Even if we drop the word "best", I can't see how her magical powers can appear to their own advantage.

The context suggests that the author is trying to tell us that Merope's magical powers didn't show their full strength until her father no longer terrorized her, but I can't see how this sentence actually communicates that. Have I totally missed the correct reading?

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  • Great question but to make it seem less opinion based, I suggest title change: "What does Dumbledore mean when he talks about Merope's magical powers?" – user65648 Nov 9 '20 at 15:00
  • @C.Koca Great. Done. – J. Mini Nov 9 '20 at 15:02
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I believe you are correct in that "their" makes the subject here "her magical powers". The phrase "best advantage" here means that her powers weren't given a fair chance to appear. Dumbledore is essentially saying "her powers couldn't flourish" or "her powers were subdued". As a different example sentence:

A friend: Would you like to come and play football later?
Me: I can, but I have been at work all day so I won't be able to play to my best advantage.

What I'm saying is that as I am fatigued from being at work, my football skills won't be very good, so I'm in a less advantageous position to play well. Conversely:

These new football boots are great, they'll let me play to my best advantage!

Now in a favourable situation (having new boots) I predict I will play football with an advantage on my average performance.

The oppression Merope faced meant her powers could not reach their potential; she was in an environment less advantageous for her magical ability. Even when her magic did appear, it was not as great as it could be, or as Dumbledore puts it, not to its best advantage.

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    Excellent answer. This points to the differences between American and British English. I'd imagine that the British would have little to no difficulty understanding this sentence, while Americans would struggle with it. – FreeMan Nov 10 '20 at 13:47

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