Author's note: This story owes its existence to a Brit-picking discussion about what to call the elastic band with which you make a pony-tail. Isn't it amazing what will twig off a little plot bunny?
"Botheration," Hermione muttered absentmindedly, pulling at the shoulder area of her robes. "My elastic has gone. I'll have to go bra shopping next Hogsmeade weekend."
"What shopping?" asked Ron, in surprise.
Hermione blushed. "You know, girls…undergarments." She blushed a deeper shade of red when Harry helpfully started to gesture with cupped hands to indicate what she was getting at. She supposed Ron had not had much exposure to such feminine frippery, having grown up with mostly men in the family.
"But what's the skelastic thing you were talking about?"
Harry and Hermione looked at him in shock. "Elastic? The stuff in the waistband of your underwear?" Harry was bemused. "Come on, mate, I've seen you in your boxers. The stuff that makes them hold-up around your waist."
Ron's ears went red at the mention of his unmentionables in front of a girl. "Buttons," he muttered.
"Buttons?" Hermione repeated, dumfounded.
"Yes, buttons! My boxers are held up with buttons, all right?" Ron said forcefully. A few sniggers emanating from a bunch of first-years were quickly stifled as he glared at them.
Harry frowned. "No elastic? But they look just like mine…"
"I suppose elastic is a Muggle invention…" Hermione pondered. She turned to Harry. "They look just like normal boxers?"
Harry nodded. "Well, except for the Chudley Cannons players moving all over them."
"Oy!" exclaimed Ron, hitting Harry on the shoulder. "Do I tell Ginny all about your underwear?" He turned to Hermione. "And when did you get to see boys' underwear – you haven't any brothers!" Ron managed to convey a sense that Hermione was bordering on becoming a Scarlet Woman in his eyes.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Ronald Weasley, you are such a … prude!"
"Well, at least I'm not talking about my drawers where anyone might hear! Next thing you'll be up on the table showing them off to everyone in the common room!"
Ron was lucky Hermione was not a practitioner of wandless magic, or else his 'drawers' might well have been around his anger-reddened ears.
"What's going on?" Ginny wandered over, having just come back from the library.
"This prat," Harry said, nodding at Ron, "was just suggesting Hermione might like to do a striptease."
Ginny blinked several times in surprise. "Has he lost his marbles?"
"'This prat'," Ron spoke through gritted teeth, "is right here and can hear you talking about him."
"'This prat'," mimicked Hermione, "will never see my underwear, as long as he lives!"
"As if I'd even want to!" The prat in question bellowed, before storming off in the direction of the stairs. Harry, Hermione and Ginny winced as they heard the door to the sixth-year boys' dormitory slam.
"How did that start?" asked Ginny.
Hermione was obviously in no fit condition to answer, tears were welling in her eyes, and her lower lip was quivering, so Harry answered. "We were talking about elastic in Muggle underwear. Ron didn't seem to have heard of it."
Ginny shrugged. "I've not heard of it myself. What is it?"
"Uh-" Harry wasn't about to show Ginny his boxers as an example. "Well-"
Hermione sniffed and wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. "It's a piece of cloth or cord woven with strips of rubber, which is able to spontaneously resume its normal bulk or shape after contraction," she explained, sounding, as always, as if she'd swallowed the entire twenty-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary. "Here, look." She pulled aside the top of her robes and school uniform, showing off a white bit of shoulder, over which lay a bra strap.
Ginny looked closely. "I've never seen anything like that!" she exclaimed.
"What did I say?" yelled Ron from the stairs. "Showing off her private regions the minute anyone asks!"
"Oh, go... boil an egg!" Hermione retorted, only a faint flush indicating that Ron's words may have hit a nerve. "So… how does your underwear function?" she asked Ginny.
Ginny glanced quickly at Harry. "I can…uh… show you, if you like, Hermione."
Harry was supremely happy that Ginny had tagged on only Hermione's name to the suggestion. He had no wish to see Ginny's underwear. Well, he did, but not under these circumstances, and not when Ron was in a mood that might mean castration to any male caught within viewing distance of his sister's knickers. Hermione and Ginny left, presumably to go rummaging through each other's lingerie drawers. "You may as well come and sit back down, rather than lurking," he spoke to the shadowy figure skulking on the boys' stairway.
Ron grunted in assent, and came to sit back down.
"She wouldn't really show off to everyone, you know, Ron," said Harry, reasonably.
Ron twirled his quill in anger.
"You're over-reacting just a teensy bit here…"
The quill was suddenly air-born as Ron flicked it away savagely. "I know. But she shouldn't be showing you!"
Ah, thought Harry. This, it seemed, was the heart of the matter: in truth, a matter of the heart. "So, if she showed you, it would be all right?" He managed to stop himself smirking as he said it.
Ron's eyes widened as he realised he'd been caught out.
"Fascinating!" exclaimed Hermione, holding up one of Ginny's camisole tops and examining the stitching. There was not a strand of rubber, nor a hint of Lycra to be seen. Support was provided merely by style and stitching.
"I have got some more modern ones, based on the Muggle style, but those ones," Ginny nodded at the item in Hermione's hands, "are more traditional. And the modern ones don't have any…eclastic. There's a charm to make them hold tight."
"I've never noticed what Lavender and Parvati wear under their uniforms. Well, you don't exactly look, do you? And besides, it's not as if Parvati has a lot that needs supporting."
Ginny giggled. "But you aren't just 'supporting' – some of it is about 'enhancing'."
Hermione glanced down at her chest region and sighed. "I don't need enhancing, I've got enough to give away!"
"I think my brother appreciates it."
"He'll not get a chance to appreciate it, if he doesn't apologise."
"He's just a bit old-fashioned about these things."
Hermione snorted in an unladylike fashion. "Old-fashioned? If I gave Ron a time-turner set to come ahead five hundred years, he'd still be in the Dark Ages."
"It would be interesting to know what the Purebreds in Slytherin wear," said Hermione as she and Ginny returned to the common room.
Ginny nearly choked. "I hope you're not suggesting we try snogging Malfoy to see if we can have a quick feel."
"Snogging sodding Malfoy?" exclaimed Ron, whose hearing was obviously finely tuned to anything that might be considered unsavoury. "Over my dead body!"
"Didn't you do anything to calm him down?" sighed Ginny as she sat next to Harry, who shrugged his shoulders in defeat. "No, Ron, we are not seriously considering snogging Malfoy. Nor the rest of Slytherin. We were just wondering…uh…what a Slytherin-"
"What a Slytherin, what?"
"-wears under his robes." Ginny blushed, as her brother looked at her in stunned amazement, his mouth gaping open like a codfish.
"Well, it's interesting!" Hermione exclaimed. "The Slytherin Purebloods seem the most likely to stay away from Muggle inventions."
Harry suddenly remembered the elderly wizard wearing a Muggle ladies' nightgown at the Quidditch World Cup. He hadn't been wearing anything under it – apparently.
"Even our family only started wearing the more modern clothing after Bill and Charlie left school," added Ginny. "Charlie said leather trousers were uncomfortable with nothing undernea-" Ron slapped his hand over her mouth.
"Are none of our personal habits sacred?" he hissed. "Or shall we just mention that Percy still prefers to have lots of air circulating around his privates, whilst Fred and George have opted for a more form-fitting style of underwear?"
Hermione choked back a giggle, and Harry turned his chortle into a well-timed cough. This was more than either of them really wanted to know about the Weasley family.
Harry had never before wished that someone would Obliviate him. Even after Voldemort's resurrection, and Cedric's death, he had not wished so sincerely to forget something. However, the conversation from the night before now plagued his mind, and he found himself noticing what the other boys were wearing. Or not wearing. At least he had not yet been noticed noticing.
It was all Hermione's fault. Her quest for knowledge had tainted everything. She did have a slight point – it was interesting how the wizarding world had adapted to do everyday tasks and odd jobs without using Muggle inventions to get by. But that didn't mean he was about to go seduce a Slytherin to see what they were wearing as undergarments.
Even Ginny had become intrigued. It was she who suggested that they each 'try and find out'. Harry still was a bit hazy how it had come about that he was to work on Millicent Bulstrode; something about Hermione having seen Millicent eyeing him in Potions. Frankly, Harry wondered if Millicent had merely been eyeing him as one might a pickled animal in a jar.
Wouldn't Malfoy have been easier? he grumbled to himself. At least then he could have 'accidentally' gone into the Slytherin changing room after Quidditch, maybe with an explanation that a Bludger to the head had confused him.
Yes, now that he thought about it, it would have been a brilliant plan - aside from the potentially revolting possibility of seeing Draco Malfoy naked.
Yes, now that he thought about it again, he was rather glad he didn't have to do it after all. Aside from the fact it meant Ginny might have to see Draco naked. And that was not good at all. Not that Malfoy had anything bigger or better than he had – at least he hoped not.
Merlin, Harry banged his head on the desk in front of him. Why, oh why, did Hermione have to come up with this? Hopefully we can talk her out of it; maybe it's a passing phase?
"Are you having problems, Potter?" Professor Snape's usual smoothly sarcastic voice interrupted Harry's efforts to dent either the desk or his head – whichever came first. "While I can well imagine that you might believe that striking your head against the desk will assist in learning the material, Potter," said Snape smoothly. "May I suggest that simply paying attention might be a novel approach for you to try?"
Harry banged his head once more, more to brass Snape off than anything else, and tried to ignore the fact Snape had just taken twenty points from Gryffindor.
"Are you all right, Harry?" Hermione looked at him with concern as they left the Dungeon and made their way to the common room.
"Just a few too many odd thoughts."
Harry attempted a grin. "I wish. More like 'You-Know-what'. Are you positive you really want us to do this?"
Hermione looked at him in shock. "Of course! It's fascinating, Harry! Just think – everyone knows about the obvious difference between Muggle and wizarding outward attire, but I'm guessing no one has ever looked into the differences in underwear. We could even write an article for-"
Harry and Ron could tell Hermione was willing to babble on about this subject for hours, possibly even days. They were beaten and they knew it. They shared a glance.
"All right, all right. We'll do it," sighed Ron.
"I think we need to do some planning." They climbed through the portrait hole. "I've been thinking about second year. We could do the Polyjuice again."
"Yuk!" Ron wrinkled his nose. "That was so revolting!"
"But it did get you into the Slytherin common room."
"And you into the hospital wing!" Ron retorted. "But if we do the Polyjuice, will we even have to go to their common room? We could just have a look at 'ourselves' and see what we're wearing!"
That sounded nice and easy to Harry. Although he still didn't like idea of possibly seeing an exposed Slytherin.
Hermione sighed her usual 'you boys are thick' sigh. "But you won't be wearing what the person you've changed into was wearing. You'll be wearing your own clothes!"
"Oh," said Ron, deflated. "Right." He paused. "You know, I wonder if …everything is replicated, to the last detail?"
Harry was very glad that these thoughts did not occur to them back in second year with Crabbe and Goyle.
Once more their potions lab of choice was Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. At first, Ginny was not eager to go in; her memories were dominated by the Chamber of Secrets and Tom Riddle's diary. But soon, she decided she wanted to replace those memories with others, memories of fun and laughter. She and Hermione giggled and gossiped, as well as talked about more serious topics such as their schoolwork, whilst they brewed the potion.
"Who's going to go pinch the other ingredients from Snape's private stores?" Ron was leaning against one of the cubicles, watching Hermione stir the half-finished potion.
"I'll go," Harry volunteered. "I'll use my Invisibility Cloak."
"How are you going to get past the wards?" asked Hermione.
"How about getting detention?" suggested Ron. "Then it would be dead easy to nip into Snape's office."
"I could get detention," said Ginny. She was highly amused at the lengths Ron and Harry were willing to go to appease Hermione's thirst for knowledge. "I've got Potions tomorrow – Harry doesn't have it 'til the day after. He could come with me under the Invisibility Cloak, ready to dash in for a bit of pilfering when there's an opportunity. If Snape doesn't know Harry's there, he won't miss him when he goes to get the stuff."
"It's a plan." Harry grinned.
Harry didn't think much of the plan a couple of days later as he watched Ginny scrub noxious-smelling cauldrons. He wished he could help her, but that might alert the Potions professor to his presence. So instead, he watched for his opportunity and inched closer to the door to Snape's office, which luckily was slightly ajar. Hopefully, it wouldn't squeak as he pushed it open enough to squeeze through.
Fate was on his side. As Snape billowed away from his desk to check on Ginny's progress, Harry nipped into the office. Now it was a matter of locating the correct items: Boomslang skin and Bicorn horn. Feeling slightly nauseated at the sight of some of the things contained in jars on the ceiling-high shelves, Harry soon found what he was looking for. Opening the correct jars, he took some of the contents and placed them in the containers Hermione had provided.
Slipping out through the door, he felt a sense of elation. That was far easier than he'd expected. Maybe it was all the practice he'd had, sneaking around the castle. He sat down on the floor to wait for Ginny's detention to be over. He noticed Snape was as sarcastic as ever, insisting that Ginny re-scrub several cauldrons that were not up to his exacting standard – apparently his sharp tongue was not just aimed at Harry, Ron and Hermione. Although, he supposed, Ginny would be considered 'yet another Weasley' in Snape's eyes.
Finally, Ginny was allowed to leave, and Harry stood up, ready to quickly follow her out of the Dungeons. He kept the Cloak over himself until they turned a corner, in case Professor Snape followed for some reason.
"Harry," whispered Ginny, glancing around. "Are you here?"
Harry decided to keep hiding for a moment longer.
"Harry Potter!" Ginny's eyes were flashing, and Harry could see she was getting just a little tetchy. She put her arms out and started seeking him in the corridor around her.
A sudden noise in a cupboard nearby startled her for a moment, before she stalked over and flung open the door. "Harry, what are you doing in-" she demanded. "Oh!" she gasped, her mouth dropping open in stunned surprise.
Harry was flabbergasted as well. He blinked. Had he really seen what he just thought he had?
Unfortunately, he had; they now knew what both Millicent Bulstrode and Draco Malfoy wore under their robes. And it was not a pretty sight.
Harry couldn't tell where Millicent stopped and the underwear started. Actually, he also couldn't tell where Millicent ended and Malfoy began, but he didn't really want to focus on that.
He had thought that he'd seen some terrible things in his life: death, torture and other unmentionable subjects. But somehow the sight before him was horrifying in a whole new dimension. He shuddered, wanting to turn away, yet unable to tear his eyes from the sickening sight.
Millicent Bulstrode and Draco Malfoy. Together. Closely together. Robes at their feet.
Harry's Gryffindor courage failing him, he was about to run screaming from the scene when he came to a sudden realisation. There was not a single piece of elastic to be seen. He felt almost gleeful as he realized that he could now tell Hermione that Draco Malfoy wore green underpants with dancing, silvery snakes, interspersed with Slytherin crests. Millicent, on the other hand, seemed to favour the 'less is more' maxim, with unsightly bulges where no bulge ought to be.
All in all, it was a shame Colin wasn't around with his camera.
Harry walked into Myrtle's bathroom with Ginny, smug in the knowledge that they finally had an answer to Hermione's obsession.
Ron's mouth dropped open at the description of Malfoy's boxers. "What do they do in Slytherin – brand them all over?" he muttered. "I wonder if You-Know-Who insists on Dark Mark-emblazoned underwear."
"All right," Hermione said musingly, her mind dismissing such trivial concerns. "We know what Gryffindors wear. We know what the purebred Slytherins wear..."
Harry felt a sinking sensation. Hermione's brain wasn't turning off as he'd hoped. The wheels were continuing to turn.
"We better not know what the Purebred Durmstrang students wear," interjected Ron.
Hermione ignored yet another of Ron's attempts to determine the precise circumstances surrounding her former relationship with Victor Krum. "What, exactly, do the teachers wear?" she asked, causing terrible visions of Snape-wear to fill Harry and Ron's horrified brains. Harry suddenly had flashbacks to Snape's greying underwear as seen in the Pensieve the year before.
It seemed this year was going to be dominated by the investigation into Purely Antiquated Notions Towards Intimate Elastic Strapping. If they were lucky, Hermione might forget to include House-elves within the parameters of her enquiry.
I give tribute to RG and Michael who came up with brilliant acronyms despite wondering about the status of my sanity. (Anyone finding my sanity, please notify the Keepers or Admins of phoenixsong.net. Thankyou.)
Thanks to Felina Black, Sib and Sherry for excellent beta reading and story-segment suggestions.