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As the Yule Ball approaches, students grow more and more antsy. After Malfoy insults Hermione's teeth one evening, Harry notices that her teeth look smaller; she confides that when Madame Pomfrey was shrinking the curse teeth in the hospital wing, Hermione allowed her to make them slightly smaller than they originally were.
On Christmas day, Harry is jolted awake by Dobby, who has crept into his room to give him a gift of homemade socks. The students open their presents, loaf through the morning, and have an elaborate snowball fight, which Hermione leaves early in order to prepare for the ball. At the ball, Harry and Parvati are seated at the head table with the other champions, including Cedric and Cho, as well as Krum and a beautiful girl who turns out to be Hermione. Ron, who has annoyed his date by staring glumly at Hermione all night, accuses Hermione of fraternizing with the enemy.
Percy Weasley attends the ball in place of Mr. Crouch, who is ill; and Harry and Ron ditch their already annoyed dates and rush outside to avoid listening to Percy. On their walk, they overhear Snape and Karkaroff deep in some mysterious discussion, and then they find Fleur in a rosebush, passionately involved with her date. Finally, Harry and Ron overhear Hagrid confide in Madame Maxime that he is half-giant, like her. She yelps at this accusation and leaves, insulted. As he accidentally overhears, Harry tries to focus on a small black beetle that is flying around them. They return to the dance, which is not much fun, and as they leave, Cedric quietly advises Harry to listen to his egg while taking a bath; he offers the Prefect's bathroom for this purpose. Harry enters the Gryffindor common room to find Ron and Hermione in a heated fight, which ends with Hermione shouting, "Next time there's a ball, ask me before someone else does, and not as a last resort!"
When Harry informs Hermione that Hagrid is half-giant, she is unconcerned, claiming that the hysteria about giants is a dumb prejudice. Her relationship with Ron is tense at this point. In Care of Magical Creatures, Hagrid is absent, and in his place is Professor Grubbly-Plank, who introduces the girls in the class to a unicorn. The boys shuffle around uselessly during the lesson, and Malfoy shows Harry and Ron the newest article by Rita Skeeter, which reveals that Hagrid is a half-giant, the son of the giantess Fridwulfa. Fridwulfa was quite dangerous, and Skeeter says that Hagrid is a fearsome, irresponsible teacher. Harry, Ron, and ultimately Hermione are furious, and although they bang on Hagrid's door, he does not answer.
During the next Hogsmeade visit, Ludo Bagman, who is sitting in a corner of the Three Broomsticks pub with a hoard of vicious-looking goblins, offers Harry assistance with his egg, which Harry turns down. Bagman confides in Harry that Mr. Crouch has stopped coming to work entirely. Then Rita Skeeter appears in the pub, chatting about an article in which she is planning to destroy Bagman's reputation. Hermione, Harry, and Ron turn on her furiously for the article about Hagrid, and she angrily snaps at Hermione to stay out of it. She leaves, and Harry has a sinking feeling that Hermione is next on Rita's attack list. The three friends run from the pub to Hagrid's house, where they find Dumbledore consoling him. They beg Hagrid to return to teach, and he tearfully agrees; he then asks how Harry is coming along with his egg, and Harry knows that it is time to take Cedric's suggestion, wary as he is of Cedric after seeing that he is now paired off with Cho.
Harry becomes increasingly aware of sexual difference in these chapters. The night of the Yule Ball, Harry overhears two discussions he wishes he had not heard, between Hagrid and Madame Maxime, and then between Ron and Hermione. In each cases, the male says or does something offensive to the female, causing her to stomp away, enraged. Harry is confused about women, although in Hermione's case, he recognizes that she understands what is happening to a much greater extent than Ron does. Harry is still nursing his own bruised ego at seeing Cho with Cedric, and he is quietly observing in this chapter that romance is a lot more complicated than it so far has been worth. Male camaraderie sweeps the night, which, although disappointing, gives Ron and Harry a chance for a long walk and discussion. During this walk, Harry overhears one conversation that he wishes he had head more of, between Snape and Karkaroff—Harry has always suspected Snape of some sort of treachery, and he now knows from Sirius that Karkaroff once was a Death Eater, making their mysterious conversation very curious.
Rita Skeeter's character allows Rowling to address racial stereotypes and bigotry. Indeed, the house-elves are subjected to work for wizards; pure blood wizards scorn Muggle-born wizards; gentle Hagrid is seen as a threat for being half-giant. Throughout all of these dilemmas of prejudice, Hermione and Dumbledore are the greatest advocates of true equality among all magical and non-magical races. This is one of the reasons why Voldemort is such a great threat to wizards worldwide; he attacks Muggle-born wizards, encourages terrible treatment of everyone, including house-elves, and taints the giants' reputation by calling them over to his side. Hagrid is so hopeful and encouraging to Harry about winning the Triwizard Tournament and showing everybody that basic skill and honesty will defeat old money, gossip, and snobbery, that Harry knows he must do everything he can to figure out the second clue. Only at this point does Harry understand how much rests on his shoulders; he has always been treated specially and encouraged, but here he sees himself the way Hagrid sees him, as the underdog who defeats the odds and makes life fair.