During Herbology the next day, Harry updates Ron and Hermione on his lesson – although everyone is intrigued by Voldemort’s youth, only Hermione is convinced that the information will be truly useful. Harry asks Hermione how Slughorn’s supper was, and she responds that he introduced them to a famous Quidditch player, who was “a bit full of herself.”
Hermione’s belief in the utility of Dumbledore’s lessons reflects the fact that she is much more emotionally mature than Harry and Ron and more likely to pay attention to people’s feelings and backgrounds, while they are inclined to dismiss these things as irrelevant.
Professor Sprout scolds the trio to focus on their plants, and with difficulty they begin to wrangle their Snargaluff stumps. As they work, Hermione announces that Slughorn is hosting a Christmas party and has explicitly charged her with checking Harry’s free evenings. Grumpy as always when this topic comes up, Ron sarcastically says that Hermione should hook up with Cormac – then they can become “King and Queen Slug.” Hermione retorts that she was going to invite Ron as her date, but now she doesn’t want to. Ron is startled and a little contrite; Harry bends over his work in order to extricate himself from this conversation.
Hermione brings up Slughorn’s Christmas party in order to invite Ron, and perhaps begin a new phase of their relationship. His immediate assumption that she means to exclude him reflects the extent to which he undervalues himself, or feels himself unlikely to attract Hermione’s attention. While these feelings are understandable and sympathetic, they also cause him to behave in a very hurtful manner.
Harry isn’t exactly surprised to see these issues come up, but he doesn’t know how he feels. He doesn’t want the friend group to be fractured if they date and break up, but he also doesn’t want to be shut out by their relationship, either. Over the next few days, Harry watches Ron and Hermione closely, but all he notices is that they’re more polite than usual.
Meanwhile, now that Katie is out of commission, Harry has to find a new Chaser for the Quidditch team. Conquering the “sinking feeling” in his stomach, he offers the position to Dean. A good flier, Dean fits into the team well – but Ron, whose playing is inconsistent due to his nerves, is performing increasingly poorly and causing discord among the entire team.
Just as he does in his behavior towards Hermione, when Ron feels he’s lacking or unworthy in some way he lashes out at others. Although his emotional responses are highly predictable, he’s unable to analyze or control them, showing how childish he still is when it comes to his feelings.
Harry is walking back to Gryffindor Tower with Ron, trying to encourage him, when they stumble upon Ginny and Dean making out in a hidden corridor. Harry feels as if “something large and scaly [had] erupted into life” in his stomach, especially when Dean gives him a “shifty grin.” Meanwhile, Ron rudely breaks them apart and scolds his sister for making out “in public.”
Harry is understandably upset to see his crush kissing someone else; but by describing his feelings as a sort of monster, he suggests that they’re somehow shameful or embarrassing. Harry’s fumbling approach to romance is largely caused by the fact that he constantly feels guilty about very normal feelings.
When Dean leaves, Ginny turns on Ron, telling him that what she does is none of his business and accusing him of being jealous because he’s never kissed anyone. Ron implies that she’s behaving in a sexually loose way and Ginny, losing her temper, tries to jinx him. As he dodges her repeated attempts, she jeers that all his friends have had some romance in their lives – even Hermione once “snogged” Viktor Krum.
No matter what Ginny is doing with her boyfriend, Ron has no right to decide whether it’s appropriate, much less prevent her from doing it. It’s admirable that Ginny is able to articulate this, rather than caving in to her brother’s bullying. Unlike Harry and Ron, she refuses to be shamed for her developing sexuality.
After Ginny storms off, Harry calms Ron down and walks him back to the common room. He tries to tell himself that he’s only upset because Ginny is Ron’s sister, but all of the sudden he pictures himself kissing her. This fantasy is punctured by the image of Ron barging in and accusing Harry of betraying his trust. Barely speaking, the boys get ready for bed; for a long time Harry lies awake, telling himself that it’s natural to feel protective of Ginny, having spent so much time around her.
Troublingly, Harry’s fantasy suggests that he supports Ron’s feelings of entitlement to control Ginny’s sexuality. Moreover, the sense of doom that he associates with pursuing his feelings for Ginny shows that he considers romance inherently threatening, rather than (as she does) something to explore and enjoy.
The next day, Ron behaves with “icy, sneering indifference” towards Hermione, who is completely perplexed by his attitude. His aggression makes his Quiddtich play even more inconsistent and worsens morale among the team – so much that Harry threatens to kick him off the team. At this, Ron deflates immediately and says that he’s going to resign after the next day’s game. No encouragement Harry gives him can change his mind.
Ron views Hermione’s fling with Viktor Krum, two years before, as a personal offense against him – even though he’s never even confessed his feelings towards her. Ron’s behavior shows that he considers the mere fact of being attached to a woman, romantically or not, as a license to control her love life.
Harry desperately wants to beat Slytherin and prove himself as a captain, and that night he lies awake planning how he can give Ron the confidence to play well. The next morning, Harry escorts a sickly Ron to breakfast and hands him a glass of pumpkin juice – but Hermione sharply warns him not to drink it, having noticed that Harry slipped something into it. Not bothering to lie very well, Harry feigns innocence. Ron tells Hermione to “stop bossing me around” and downs the juice.
While Harry hasn’t actually given Ron the Felix Felicis potion, Ron finds it quite conceivable that he’s willing to do so, and is willing to go along with it. Both Harry and Ron judge other people harshly but are often willing to bend the rules in their favor, while Hermione – who usually views other people’s actions with compassion – is the most morally rigorous when it comes to her own behavior.
When they get to the locker room, Ginny announces that Draco isn’t playing today, having become ill. Harry wonders if he’s faking and feels distracted. As the game begins, commentator Zacharias Smith derides Ron’s abilities as a Keeper but is proven wrong as he quickly saves several goals. For the entire match, Ron and Ginny play spectacularly well. Although the Slytherin Seeker spots the Snitch before Harry, Harry manages to distract him and catch it, winning the game. In retaliation for Smith’s comments, Ginny crashes into the commentator’s box.
Even though the team has felt fractured lately and Ron and Ginny have been fighting, they’re able to win the game by supporting each other – Ginny’s revenge against Smith shows that she’ll stick up for her brother even when she’s mad at him. Unlike Voldemort, Harry always sees himself as part of a team and fosters a culture of loyalty whenever he’s in a position of power.
In the locker room, Hermione confronts Ron and Harry, accusing them of using the Felix Felicis potion to win the game. Grinning, Harry pulls the full bottle out of his pocket – he only pretended to spike Ron’s drink. Having really believed he drank the potion, Ron is astounded to find that he played so well by himself – but he turns on Hermione and excoriates her for lacking confidence in him. When he leaves the locker room, she’s almost in tears. Having felt sure that a successful match would restore their friendship, Harry feels dejected – he doesn’t know how to explain to Hermione that Ron is actually mad about her relationship with Viktor Krum.
Before Harry’s revelation, Ron and Hermione both think that Ron would not have been able to play so well without external help. However, Ron acts as though Hermione has personally insulted him. He’s so unable to acknowledge or overcome his own feelings of inferiority that he takes them out on Hermione – who, ironically, is the person who most values him and appreciates his good qualities.
Harry arrives at Gryffindor Tower to find a party in full swing and Hermione nowhere in sight. Smugly, Ginny points out Ron, who is feverishly making out with Lavender Brown in a corner. Ginny hopes that one day he’ll “refine his technique.” Seeing Hermione dart out of the portrait hole, Harry dodges several eager girls and follows.
Ron pursues Lavender in order to feel as mature as his friends and sister, who have all dated people before. However, this largely superficial relationship actually emphasizes his immaturity, and forms a contrast to his sincere friendship with Hermione.
Harry finds Hermione in an empty classroom, glumly conjuring up yellow birds. Harry is wondering what to say when Ron and Lavender burst in, hand in hand. Giggling, Lavender leaves, but Hermione waves her wand and the yellow birds fly at Ron and attack him. In tears, she stalks out and slams the door.
Harry usually tries to ignore his more complicated feelings, as well as those of the people around them. The fact that he’s actively trying to comfort Hermione now shows that he’s growing in emotional maturity.