Snow is falling and the castle is decorated for Christmas – complete with groups of girls swarming under the mistletoe when Harry goes past. He’s increasingly annoyed by the constant presence of Lavender Brown, who sees “any moment that she was not kissing Ron as wasted” and dejected that his two best friends aren’t speaking to each other. Whenever the subject comes up Ron becomes extremely defensive and repeats that since Hermione “snogged Krum” he can do whatever he wants.
Right now, it seems that Harry’s fears have proved correct – new romantic developments have indeed imperiled his longstanding friendships. However, the novel will eventually draw a distinction between Ron’s ill-considered relationship with Lavender and his serious bond with Hermione, which cements rather than fractures the trio’s friendship.
Since Hermione will no longer sit in the common room, Harry can only speak with her in the library, where she insists that she has no interest in what Ron is doing. More importantly, she warns Harry that she’s overheard lots of girls, especially Romilda Vane, plotting the best way to slip him a love potion and dupe him into taking them to Slughorn’s Christmas party. Hermione advises choosing a date and putting an end to speculation.
Even though Harry hates to think about dating and can’t come to grips with his crush on Ginny, he’s become a romantic commodity. As in many other spheres of life, he’s being asked to grow up more quickly than he would like to.
Remembering that love potions from Fred and George’s store have been banned at school, Harry realizes that people are still succeeding in bringing in illicit objects. Eagerly, he tells Hermione that Draco might have found a way to ship the necklace to school, but she dismisses the idea.
Harry will actually prove correct on this point, which he arrives at through reasoning, rather than simply his hatred of Draco. As usual, the novel argues that good judgments stem from facts, not feelings.
When they return to Gryffindor Tower, Romilda Vane immediately gives Harry a box of chocolates. Hermione throws him a smug look; but when she sees Ron and Lavender “entwined” in an armchair she stalks off to bed. Harry hopes that the two will cool off over the break, but after a disastrous Transfiguration lesson in which Hermione laughs at Ron’s spellwork and he mocks the way she raises her hand so cruelly that she cries, he doubts this will happen.
Ron and Hermione are both taking advantage of the other’s insecurities: Hermione capitalizes on Ron’s feelings of inferiority, while he seems to chime in with other Hogwarts students who see her as a know-it-all. Although they’re hurting each other now, they’re each displaying their understanding of the other’s character.
Darting out of class in search of Hermione, Harry finds her being comforted by Luna. Impulsively, he invites Luna to Slughorn’s party. She’s delighted by the suggestion but Ron is appalled, pointing out that Harry could take anyone in the school. Ginny tells him that he’s done a nice thing by choosing Luna, which makes him feel glum. At dinner Harry urges Ron to apologize to Hermione, but he refuses and soon disappears into Lavender’s embrace.
Harry’s willingness to take Luna to the dance stems in part from his knowledge that he could have any date he wanted; Ron is more attentive to social status because no one is boosting his ego in this way. Even though Harry interprets Ginny’s comment as a sign of indifference, it shows the strength of her character and her indifference to the social conventions that exclude Luna as an eccentric.
Arriving at the table, Hermione strikes up a bright conversation with Parvati and happens to mention that she’s attending Slughorn’s party with Cormac McLaggen, whom she’s now dating. Ron looks after her as she leaves and Harry muses upon “the depths to which girls would sink to get revenge.”
Hermione is demonstrating her emotional intelligence by choosing exactly the date who will annoy Ron the most; but she’s not appearing at her most emotionally mature in this moment.
That night, Luna looks odd but nice in her sparkling robes. On the way to Slughorn’s office she shares her theory that the Minister of Magic is actually a vampire. When they arrive, they find the room enchanted to look like a lavish tent; Slughorn immediately corners Harry and introduces him to several famous people. To Harry’s discomfort, one of them immediately asks to write his biography.
Harry’s kindness towards Luna, despite the fact that she obviously doesn’t fit into fashionable Wizarding circles, establishes him as essentially different from the wizards who seek to flatter him and write his biography simply because he’s currently famous.
Extricating himself, Harry drags Luna towards a very disheveled Hermione, who’s just escaped Cormac’s embrace. She admits that she just picked him because she knew Ron would be jealous. Harry warns Hermione that no matter how mad she gets at Ron she mustn’t tell him that she Confunded Cormac at the tryouts, lest he lose his confidence. Hermione bursts out in frustration, scoffing that just like Cormac all Harry cares about is Quidditch. Seeing her date coming, she disappears.
Telling Harry why she chose to date Cormac, Hermione is essentially admitting her feelings for Ron, but she expresses no embarrassment about doing so. Even though things aren’t going her way at the moment, unlike Harry she doesn’t see anything shameful in having feelings for someone or wanting to pursue a new romance.
Slughorn reappears and begins telling the crowd what a gifted potioneer Harry is. To Harry’s horror, Snape appears and remarks suspiciously that he’s never shown much aptitude before. Fortunately, Snape’s attention is distracted by Filch, who has caught Draco trying to crash the party. Although Slughorn genially waves him into the party, Harry notices that Draco looks ill. With evident unease, Snape whisks Draco away for a private conference.
This is the first of many references to Draco’s deteriorating appearance and increasingly anxious behavior. Although Harry wants to see his enemy as a force of pure and unrepentant evil, it’s becoming clear that Draco is troubled by his task and reluctant to carry it out, complicating Harry’s condemnation of him.
Harry slips away from the party, as well, donning his Invisibility Cloak and following Snape and Draco down the corridor. He hears Snape warning Draco that he can’t afford to make any more mistakes, and that he’s made an Unbreakable Vow to help him. Disrespectfully, Draco sneers that the job is his and that Snape just wants to steal credit for his work. He strides away angrily, and Harry waits for Snape to leave before returning slowly to the party.
In a way, the protective stance Snape takes towards Draco mirrors the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore. This sets up another parallel between Harry and the nemesis from whom he wants to consider himself fundamentally different.