One day when Griet is buying meat, Pieter the butcher's son reports that there has been an outbreak of plague in the neighborhood where Griet's family lives. Griet quickly realizes both that this means he has been seeking information about her, and, more importantly, that if a quarantine is placed on the neighborhood, she will not have contact with her family. She rushes back to the Vermeer house and asks Catharina for permission to go and see her family. Catharina refuses, since she is afraid of Griet bringing back contamination and infecting the family. She forbids Griet from visiting her home until the outbreak is over. Maria Thins tries to comfort Griet, but also supports her daughter's decision. Vermeer also expresses his sympathies the next day, at which time he confirms that the quarantine has been put in place. Emboldened by the crisis with her family, Griet tells him that she approves of a change he has recently made to the painting he is working on.
As days pass, Griet is increasingly anxious about her family but has little way of learning news of them. She does try to ask for information from one of the soldiers maintaining the barricade around the neighborhood, but he makes it clear that he expects sexual favors in exchange for information; she rejects him. Pieter the younger, however, also offers to find out information. She accepts this offer reluctantly since, while less explicitly predatory, it likewise leaves her indebted. Pieter reports that, while her parents are well, her sister Agnes is ill. On her next day off, Griet goes to visit her brother to share this news. He is startled and upset.
A short time later, Vermeer's painting is completed and the van Ruijven couple comes to see it. van Ruijven quickly takes notice of Griet and insists that she serve the wine, but Catharina and Maria both work to ensure that Griet spends very little time near him. The next day, Griet learns the quarantine has been lifted and hurries to see her family. She is devastated to learn that Agnes has died.
A lonely period follows in which Griet grieves for her sister. The Vermeer household falls into a quiet lull, awaiting both the birth of Catharina's child and Vermeer beginning his next painting. Griet encourages Frans to join her in visiting her family, but the dynamic is permanently changed. Catharina gives birth to a healthy son, whom they name Franciscus. To celebrate the birth, the family has a grand party, which involves a great deal of extra work for Griet and also forces her to confront the luxuries they enjoy. She also has a number of uncomfortable encounters with men. When Pieter the younger comes to the house to deliver some meat, Vermeer observes the rapport between them and reacts coldly, making Griet feel uncomfortable, although she also experiences jealousy when she thinks about Vermeer with his wife. During the feast, van Ruijven flirts with her and suggests that Vermeer paint her. Griet is saved by Pieter the elder giving her an excuse to leave the room, for which she later thanks him.
After the feast, interactions between Griet and Vermeer remain strained until one day he surprises her in the studio while she is cleaning the windows. He seems struck by the effect of her gazing at him over her shoulder, and the next day he begins a new painting.
Griet's family dynamic was already strained in the first part of the novel once she moved away, and began to be exposed to other ways of thinking and living. With the death of Agnes, her connection to the past and sense of who she was shifts even further. Griet feels deep guilt over the sense of having abandoned her sister and family, and not having been able to support or help them during the plague. This separation also reveals the way she has become engulfed in the world of privilege enjoyed by the Vermeer family. Even by being their servant, she is given a position and home that keeps her safe from the threats that her working class family experiences. Despite her attempts to remain close to her parents and keep in contact with her brother, Griet begins to drift away from them.
Griet's ambivalent and frequently threatening interactions with men continue in this section of the novel. She becomes highly aware that any time she accepts help from a man, she is put in a position where he can potentially demand access to her body in exchange. Some individuals, like the soldier guarding the quarantined neighborhood, are very aggressive about this, while others, such as Pieter, are gentler. Both of these approaches make Griet uncomfortable since she wants to be able to feel independent and in control, but is instead placed in the frustrating position of having to rely on others for help.
This sexual aggressiveness is figured most explicitly with the character of van Ruijven. He represents a higher class and economic position than even the Vermeer family, and reveals that, while the Vermeer family has power over Griet, there are also individuals such as the wealthy patron who have power over them. He is also sexually attracted to Griet, but does not participate in the idea of exchange like the other male characters. He is so privileged, and so far above Griet in social standing, that he assumes he simply has a right to have her if he wants to. Other characters make an effort to protect Griet by keeping her away from him, but the fact that they do so only in indirect ways reveals that they are unwilling to actually stand up to van Ruijven and risk disrupting the benefits they receive from him.
This section also reveals the development of the relationship between Griet and Vermeer. She moves from a silent observer of his paintings to feeling comfortable enough to express her opinion about them. There also begins to be hints of a romantic and sexual attraction between them. Vermeer shows jealousy when it becomes clear that Pieter is courting Griet, a reaction he would not have if he simply thought of her as a bright and precocious employee. Griet similarly feels distaste towards the reality of his relationship with his wife, implying that she is not merely appreciative of his talents as an artist.