The next day, after sending a letter to Percy, Harry, Ron, and Hermione stop in the kitchen to give Dobby his new socks. Dobby cries from happiness as the other elves bring tea. Ron asks for eclairs for himself and extra food for Sirius, and then Hermione asks where Winky is. Dobby points to the fireplace, where Winky is sitting on a stool with a bottle of butterbeer. Her clothes are dirty and she appears drunk. Dobby explains that butterbeer is very alcoholic for house-elves and she's going through six bottles per day. She's still upset about Mr. Crouch and won't accept that Dumbledore is her master.
Again, it's important to note that even though Winky is clearly unhappy being free, Hermione is still spearheading S.P.E.W. based on her interpretation of Winky's experience; Hermione hasn't ever asked Winky what she wants or needs. Though Hermione's heart is in the right place, this shows that she's doing a poor job of being an advocate and instigating meaningful change.
Harry asks Winky if she has any idea what Mr. Crouch might be doing, since he's not coming to the Tournament events. Winky sways and starts to hiccup when she hears that Mr. Crouch might be ill, and says that Mr. Crouch trusted her with his most important secret. She scolds Harry for prying into Mr. Crouch's personal life and then passes out. Other elves cover her with a tablecloth and apologize to their human visitors for Winky's behavior. Hermione suggests that they try to cheer her up, but a house-elf politely explains that house-elves don't have the right to be unhappy when there are things to do. Hermione shouts to the elves that they have the right to be happy like Dobby is. At this, Dobby looks scared and the other elves angrily push the trio out of the kitchen.
For the most part, this is where the novel leaves the question of house-elf liberation. By leaving it here, Goblet of Fire encourages the reader to come to their own conclusions about what Hermione is doing, using Winky's clear unhappiness and Hermione's continued unwillingness to listen. Further, when Dobby seems afraid and wants to be left out of Hermione's agitating, it shows that he recognizes that he's an outlier and that most house-elves don't want what he wants, again calling Hermione's entire project into question.
The next morning at breakfast, Hermione explains that she's subscribed to the Daily Prophet so that they can stop finding things out from the Slytherins. Several owls land in front of Hermione with letters. She starts to sputter and throws one letter at Harry. It's composed with letters cut from a newspaper and tells Hermione that she's wicked. Another letter contains undiluted bubotuber pus, which makes Hermione's hands erupt in painful boils. As Hermione runs to the hospital wing, Ron says that he knew this would happen if Hermione annoyed Rita Skeeter. Hermione is gone for the entire morning and Harry tries to ignore the Slytherins' taunts.
By subscribing to the Daily Prophet herself, Hermione shows that Rita Skeeter's articles have taught her the importance of gathering and interpreting her own information on her own time, rather than listening to what others tell her is true or correct. The hate mail indicates that there are consequences for going against Skeeter, even for someone as confident as Hermione.
During Care of Magical Creatures, Hagrid greets the class with new crates containing fuzzy creatures he calls nifflers. They're treasure hunters and Hagrid says that they're going to each choose a niffler and send them into a patch of earth in which Hagrid buried gold coins. The class is fun and Ron's niffler is very good. Hermione arrives near the end of class, just as Hagrid asks students to count their coins. Hagrid growls at Goyle that stealing coins won't do him any good--it's leprechaun gold, and it will disappear.
By introducing the students to nifflers, Hagrid introduces students to tools that they may be able to use in the future, which is exactly what the purpose of Hogwarts classes is. This allows students to move into the world knowing about the animals they share their world with.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione stay to help Hagrid put the nifflers away. They notice Maxime watching Hagrid as Hagrid asks Hermione about her hands. After she tells him about her hate mail, he counsels her to stop opening it. On the way up to the castle, Ron frowns and when Harry asks what's wrong, Ron asks Harry why he never said anything about the fact that Ron paid Harry back for the Omnioculars with leprechaun gold. Harry admits that he didn't notice it was missing, which annoys Ron--he says it must be great to have enough money to not notice Galleons missing. He says he hates being poor.
This conversation about the leprechaun gold and Harry and Ron's differing financial situations again shows Harry that he has a great deal of power to make Ron feel as though he can compete and be on equal footing. Again, this comes back to the choices that Harry has to make when he wants to make his friends feel good and recognizing that something that's inconsequential for him might be very important for Ron.
Hermione ignores her hate mail for the next week, though she continues to angrily wonder how Rita Skeeter is listening to private conversations. She stays late after Defense Against the Dark Arts to ask Moody if he's seen Skeeter under an Invisibility Cloak, but he hasn't seen her. Harry suggests that Skeeter is electronically bugging Hermione, but Hermione says that according to Hogwarts: A History, Muggle technology doesn't work at Hogwarts.
When Hermione invokes Hogwarts: A History in this situation, it shows that she's beginning to come to terms with the new way that she has to engage with the book. For questions like this it can still provide answers, but Hermione will still need to check what she finds to make sure that she learns the entire truth.
Hedwig brings a reply from Percy at the end of the Easter holiday with a package from Mrs. Weasley. Harry and Ron receive huge eggs filled with toffee, but Hermione's egg is tiny. She quietly asks if Mrs. Weasley reads Witch Weekly, and Ron confirms that she does. Percy's letter says that Mr. Crouch is taking a break and he's tired of shutting down rumors.
Though it could be just that Percy doesn't want to answer Ron's questions at all, his mention of being tired of shutting down rumors suggests that Percy isn't willing to question what's going on for anyone.
In the last week of May, McGonagall tells Harry to go to the Quidditch field at nine to hear what the third task is. Harry meets Cedric in the entrance hall and when they get to the Quidditch field, they see that it's covered in hedges. Bagman explains that they're growing a maze. The Triwizard Cup will be in the center, there will be obstacles all through the maze, and the first champion to get the cup will win. He explains that Harry and Cedric will enter first, then Krum, then Fleur.
The maze will require the champions to have a general knowledge of all manner of hexes, curses, and magical creatures, which positions the maze as being a symbolic representation of the real Wizarding world. In this way, the Tournament tests champions' maturity and ability to function as adults, not just their prowess as witches and wizards.
As they begin to leave the maze, Krum asks Harry for a word. He leads Harry to the edge of the forest and asks if there's anything between him and Hermione. Harry insists that they're just friends. Krum smiles and compliments Harry on his flying in the first task but then he hears something in the woods. The two boys turn as Mr. Crouch stumbles out. He looks awful and tells a tree to send an owl to Dumbledore. He ignores Harry until, quite suddenly, he grabs Harry's robes and asks to see Dumbledore. He says he's done something stupid and needs to tell. However, in the next moment, he resumes talking to the tree. Harry asks Krum to stay with Mr. Crouch while he fetches Dumbledore, but Mr. Crouch grabs Harry again and says something about Bertha Jorkins, Barty Crouch, and Voldemort.
The trajectory of Harry and Krum's conversation suggests that the two have the beginnings of a friendship, but Mr. Crouch's appearance demonstrates how the outside world can complicate these fledgling relationships. The snippets of information that Mr. Crouch is able to share with Harry confirm that there's more going on than Harry and the adults around him have considered, though it's also important to note that Mr. Crouch seems disturbed--this will compromise how trustworthy he's perceived as being.
Harry frees himself and races to Dumbledore's office. He tells the gargoyle "lemon drop," but it's apparently no longer the password. Harry starts running to the staff room, but Snape catches him. Harry tries to tell Snape what's going on, but Snape refuses to help Harry. Dumbledore emerges from his office and follows Harry down to the forest. Harry explains what Mr. Crouch said and Dumbledore walks faster when he learns that Mr. Crouch is with Krum. Past the Beauxbatons carriage, Harry can't hear anyone. Dumbledore lights his wand and discovers Krum on the ground, unconscious. Dumbledore sends something silvery in the direction of Hagrid's cabin and revives Krum. Krum explains that Mr. Crouch attacked him.
The fact that Dumbledore picks up the pace when he hears that Krum is with Mr. Crouch suggests that on some level, he may agree with the others around him and not trust his foreign guests entirely. As in other cases, this shows that not even someone as good and wonderful as Dumbledore is exempt from having thoughts that rely on thinking ill of others just because they're different than he is.
Hagrid arrives and Dumbledore sends him to fetch Karkaroff. Moody arrives and begins searching the woods for Mr. Crouch. Hagrid returns with Karkaroff, who immediately shouts that Dumbledore and the Ministry aren't playing fair. He spits at Dumbledore's feet and at this, Hagrid lifts him and slams him against a tree. Dumbledore sends Hagrid to the castle with Harry and tells Harry to stay in the common room. As they walk, Hagrid angrily asks why Harry trusted Krum. He says that they can't trust anyone.
When Karkaroff jumps immediately to believing that Hogwarts and England are doing this to jeopardize Durmstrang's chances at the Triwizard Cup, it shows that Karkaroff still prioritizes winning and believes that that's the true point of the Tournament. Hagrid's angry advice to Harry shows how easy it is, in times like this, for reasonable people to become suspicious of others.