On their way to the Owlery to send Sirius an update on Harry's performance, Harry and Hermione fill Ron in on Sirius's information about Karkaroff. Then, they return to the common room for Harry's party. When people ask Harry to open the golden egg, he does. It's empty but a nasty wailing fills the room until Harry closes it. Neville thinks that Harry will be tortured. As Hermione accepts food from Fred, she innocently asks how to get into the kitchen. He tells her but before he can warn her to not annoy the elves, Neville turns into a canary. Fred uses the opportunity to advertise his Canary Creams.
Neville's suggestion that the egg warns of torture raises a number of questions in regards to why he'd think that way. The fact that Harry doesn't ask any of those questions suggests that at this point, he's still too caught up in his own world to be truly curious about others' lives. Fred's Canary Cream shows that he and George are still pursuing their joke shop ideas and, given the success of this candy, deserve more credit than Mrs. Weasley wants to give them.
In the beginning of December, Hagrid asks his class to see if the skrewts will hibernate by settling the six-foot creatures in boxes. The skrewts, however, break out and most of the students hide in Hagrid's hut. Harry, Ron, and Hermione help tie up the skrewts and as they do, Rita Skeeter appears. Hagrid frowns at her and asks if Dumbledore banned her from school grounds, but Skeeter ignores this and expresses interest in the skrewts. She flatters Hagrid and asks if he'd give an interview for an article about the skrewts. Harry is unable to secretly let Hagrid know that this is a bad idea and later, Ron says that the best and worst thing that could happen is that Hagrid will have to get rid of the skrewts.
The way that Rita Skeeter manipulates Hagrid and flatters him to avoid having to tell the truth (the novel implies that she has indeed been banned from Hogwarts) suggests that she knows how to use empathy and kindness as tools to advance her own agenda. This shows that even these qualities that are often associated with heroes can also be used by villains, and suggests that Harry should carefully consider who's offering him help and what their motives might be in doing so.
Harry enjoys Divination now that he and Ron are friends again. Trelawney predicts his death yet again and after class, Harry notes that it'd be impressive if she didn't do it daily. Hermione isn't at dinner but meets the boys at the Fat Lady's portrait and begs them to follow her. She leads Harry and Ron down to the kitchen, tickles a pear in a painting and ignores Ron's scathing comments about S.P.E.W., and leads them into the kitchen. Dobby throws himself at Harry, crying with happiness, and explains that Dumbledore hired him and Winky to work at Hogwarts. He's wearing an assortment of neat clothing items.
The observation that Harry might take Trelawney seriously were she not so intent on constantly predicting his death again brings up the idea of believability: like Moody with his assassination plots, because Trelawney sees death omens everywhere, nobody believes her when she does see a real one. The note that Dobby's clothes are all neat indicates that he cares for them and takes pride in them, as they symbolize his freedom.
Looking around the kitchen, Harry sees four tables that he assumes are right below the House tables in the Great Hall. A hundred elves smile and bow, all dressed in tea towels. Winky is sitting by the fire wearing clothes that she's clearly not caring for. As Harry and Hermione greet Winky, Winky bursts into tears. Elves bring tea for Harry, Ron, and Hermione as Dobby tells them about his quest to find paid work. The other elves act as though Dobby is speaking about something rude and Winky cries even harder. Dobby happily says he now earns a Galleon a week and a day off per month. Hermione is aghast at how little this is, but Dobby says he doesn't want more.
In contrast to Dobby, Winky's poorly kept clothes tell the reader that she's not enjoying her freedom and isn't proud of being free. Notice too that Dobby insists that he doesn't want to be paid any more than he already is, but Hermione is still aghast. This again shows that Hermione isn't even willing to listen to an elf who embodies her cause when he says that her aims are too high to actually be useful or desirable to elves.
Hermione kindly asks Winky what she's being paid, which makes Winky look Hermione in the eye and furiously say that she hasn't sunk so low as to accept payment and is ashamed to be free. Hermione points out that Mr. Crouch was horrible to her, but Winky shrieks that Mr. Crouch is good and was right to fire her. Dobby explains that house-elves can't speak ill of their masters and that Winky is having a hard time adjusting. Dobby says that he struggles to say bad things about the Malfoys even now. He says that the Malfoys are "bad Dark wizards" and then bangs his head on the table to punish himself.
Again, the disconnect between the way that Hermione speaks to the elves and what the elves tell her suggests that Hermione isn't being a good advocate or ally to the house-elves--if she were, she'd ask Winky what she could do to help make her transition to freedom easier or help her find employment with terms that suited her. Specifically, Hermione's observation about Mr. Crouch shows that she's judging him on a completely different metric than the elves are.
Hermione notes that she's seen Mr. Crouch and he seems to be doing just fine. When she mentions that he's judging the Tournament with Bagman, Winky dissolves: she says that Bagman is bad, but she insists on keeping Mr. Crouch's secrets. Dobby talks over her about his plans to buy a sweater, and Ron offers him the one that Mrs. Weasley will send for Christmas. As the trio prepares to leave, Harry tells Dobby he can visit him. On the walk back to Gryffindor Tower, they discuss whether Winky will get over being fired and what she means by speaking ill of Bagman.
Given the way the elves' magic appears to work, it seems likely that the trio can trust what the elves say: both that the Malfoys are Dark wizards and that somehow, Bagman isn't a good person. In this situation, Winky and Dobby are able to offer an outside perspective much like those of the magical devices and in doing so, add to the trio's understanding of their world.