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Rubber Ducks and Eckeltricity by nott theodore
Chapter 1 : Rubber Ducks and Eckeltricity
 
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The Muggle Studies classroom was, after the Great Hall and the Gryffindor Common Room, Arthur Weasley’s favourite place in the world. Professor Bumble had decorated the room with as many Muggle objects as he could find; gilt-framed paintings by famous artists adorned the walls, which were papered with a bright, psychedelic pattern. Behind the professor’s desk was an array of strange box shapes, appliances that apparently ran by something called eckeltricity. At the back of the room, a table held assorted vibrant toys: comics detailing flying men wearing strange suits, chunky building bricks, plastic cars, small rubber people and a screen upon which pictures could be drawn and then shaken away – just like magic. Yellow rubber ducks lined up on the windowsill, observing the lessons taught in front of them.

So excited was Arthur for the lesson today that he’d left lunch and a disgruntled Molly Prewett ten minutes early to arrive on time. They were going to be taught about Muggle transport, something Arthur had been eager to learn about ever since he’d escaped from his parents in Diagon Alley and ventured out into Muggle London. He simply couldn’t understand how they got around without magic.

Five minutes before the lesson was due to begin Professor Bumble ambled along the corridor, humming obliviously under his breath. The thin Muggle suit he wore marked him out from the other teachers, but he never seemed to mind the attention he received for it. It was as though the jovial, bearded man was completely unaware of everything around him unless it involved Muggles. That, though, was something Arthur understood well, and he was a particular favourite of the professor because of it.

“Arthur!” Bumble exclaimed, eventually noticing the thin redhead stood by his classroom door. “You’re very early! Looking forward to today’s lesson, I suppose?”

“Yes, sir,” Arthur replied, nodding fervently.

“Well, I’m glad to hear it lad. I could do with more pupils like you. How’s the application for the summer internship at the Ministry coming along?”

“Very well, thank you, sir.”

“Good, good…” the professor trailed off, glancing at his watch. “Merlin’s beard! Is that the time? Come on boy, let’s get inside and start the lesson. Well, as soon as those classmates of yours decide to turn up, anyway.” With a wave of his wand, Bumble unlocked the door and Arthur followed him into the room, taking his usual seat at the front of the class.

Despite Arthur’s enthusiasm for his Muggle Studies NEWT class, his peers didn’t seem to share his feelings towards the subject. That, combined with Professor Bumble’s poor discipline, the others sauntered in just on time or several minutes late. But it was a full five minutes after the timetabled start to the lesson that Amos Diggory and Bertie Macmillan, two of the most popular boys in the year, graced the class with their presence.

“Good, good, we’re all here,” Professor Bumble announced cheerfully as the two took their seats. “Try not to be so late next time, boys. Remember the Muggle saying, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’!”

Arthur’s quill was already scurrying across the parchment as he noted down the adage. He would attempt to decipher its meaning later – if it had any at all, that is. Muggles did say the oddest things sometimes.

“So, our lesson today is on Muggle transport. It’s an important part of the NEWT course, and very helpful knowledge to have if you ever find yourself stuck in the Muggle world. Broomsticks and Floo powder can’t be used there, that’s for sure!” he chuckled to himself and was quiet for a moment as he pondered the trouble that would cause.

“Now, since you don’t want to break the Statute,” he continued. “You need to know some of the different types of Muggle transport and how they work. Can anyone tell me how Muggles might get around?”

Arthur’s hand instantly shot into the air. Although he didn’t know much about Muggles – which is why he’d chosen the subject, after all – he had done some background reading on the topic over summer.

“Cars,” he said eagerly.

Professor Bumble nodded. Tapping his wand onto a screen beside him, an image of a Muggle car appeared, almost identical to one that Arthur had seen on his adventure away from Diagon Alley. The paint was a light blue colour and, even though he didn’t know how they worked, he felt a thrill of excitement at the thought of one day owning one.

“Well done, Arthur,” Bumble congratulated him. “Cars are very expensive so not a lot of Muggles have them at the moment, although I’ve been informed by our Divination teacher that that will change in the future. Before the car can run, it needs fuel, which is called petrol. To operate them, you use your feet to press pedals and use your hand to move a stick called a gear stick. You can change the direction that you’re travelling in with something called a steering wheel. You hold that while you’re driving. It’s really rather complicated, as you have to do a lot of things at once without taking your eyes off the road.”

“Have you ever driven one, sir?” a girl called Amelia asked.

“No, unfortunately not, Miss Bones. The Muggles in Britain are required to take a test before they’re allowed to drive a car, and once they pass they receive their licence. It’s rather like an Apparition test, only with cars, of course,” explained the professor. “Now, can anyone else tell me other modes of transport that Muggles use?”

“Don’t they just walk everywhere? I mean, they can’t use magic so everything takes ages anyway,” piped up Bertie from the back of the classroom.

“No, Macmillan, they don’t just walk everywhere! Muggles are really very ingenious, and they’ve invented lots of ways to travel without using magic. Some of them, I dare say, are much more comfortable than Floo and Apparition.”

Suitably admonished, the boy looked away from the teacher, while Arthur was quietly indignant at the slur on Muggles. How could someone be so ignorant of the fact that they were really very clever people?

“Come on class – there must be other people who know something about Muggle transport. A lot of the things they use have been copied by witches and wizards, you know. Does anyone have any ideas?”

Amelia raised her hand tentatively. “Don’t they use buses, sir? And trains?”

Bouncing excitedly in his polished black shoes, Bumble nodded, waving his wand again. A photograph – not moving, of course, but Arthur had learnt to expect that – of a bus came before them. It was not dissimilar to the Knight Bus, as a matter of fact; only two decks instead of three and painted a deep red rather than the blossoming violet colour denoting the wizarding version.

“As you can see, Muggle buses are very similar to the Knight Bus. Wizards copied the idea off Muggles so that they could travel more inconspicuously around Britain. These buses work the same way: a person climbs on board and pays the conductor for their ticket. Muggle buses don’t travel as quickly as the Knight Bus, but I’m not entirely sure I’d say that’s a drawback.”

A few students laughed at this, while others exchanged queasy grins, remembering their own journeys. Now that Arthur was of age, he was determined to avoid using the Knight Bus for as long as possible; the last trip he’d taken on it had involved a broken nose and hot chocolate scalding him at a hundred miles an hour.

“Trains,” Professor Bumble went on, as another picture appeared on the screen. “Are another mode of transport that wizards have copied from Muggles. Since you all take the Hogwarts Express to arrive here each year, you should be familiar with the sight of them. Again, they are very similar to the Hogwarts Express, although Muggles use them a lot more frequently than wizards do. They run on tracks between different stations and the Muggles pay for a ticket to transport them wherever they want to go.”

By this point, Arthur’s feverish scribbling had filled an entire roll of parchment and he pulled out a second, keen to keep up.

“There’s one other form of transport that Muggles often use on land. Does anyone know what it is?”

Arthur put his hand up again, recalling his extra reading. “A cibycle?”

Professor Bumble’s booming laugh rang out across the classroom. “Almost, lad, almost. A good try, at any rate.”

A blush crept up the back of Arthur’s neck, red wine staining the cream carpet of his skin. He ducked his head down towards his notes, embarrassed to have made an error in what was well-known to be his favourite subject. There was no need to turn to the back of the classroom for him to know that Amos and Bertie, the class clowns, were making fun of his mistake.

“They’re called bicycles, Arthur. Some people compare them to broomsticks, and in a way, they are similar – except, of course, they don’t fly. It’s a vehicle with two wheels. To ride it, you sit on something called a saddle and push the pedals in a circular motion with your feet. That propels you forward. These things are called handlebars,” he said, motioning to the front of the fragile-looking contraption. “They are like the steering wheel of a car which I mentioned earlier, because you can move them to change your direction.”

Another image appeared on the screen, again of a vehicle with two wheels, although Arthur thought this looked more like a cross between a bicycle and a car.

“This, class, is called a motorcycle. It’s like a bicycle but it has an engine, like a car, so that whoever is riding it doesn’t have to do as much work with their legs.”

For once, Professor Bumble seemed to have managed to capture and hold the class’s attention; they sat staring silently at the pictures before them. Even Diggory and Macmillan weren’t making silly comments, which was an extremely pleasant and welcome change for the Muggle Studies teacher. It was nice, for once, to have pupils actually paying attention to his subject, rather than treating it as though it didn’t matter. Of course, Arthur Weasley was one student who always paid attention, and Brian Bumble was going to miss the lad’s keen expression and hurried note taking when he left at the end of the year.

“Since we don’t have much longer, I’m going to move on to some more types of transport.”

“There are more?” Amos exclaimed excitedly.

“Yes, there are more, Mr Diggory,” Bumble replied with a pleased smile. “I told you that the Muggles are rather ingenious when it comes to travelling without magic. If you think about the number of ways they have to travel compared to the few we use, you’ll agree that they’re much more inventive. Of course, Muggle transport is a lot slower, but they can’t be blamed for that. Now, I’ve covered the most common ways that Muggles travel on land, but they have other methods of getting to foreign countries across the sea.”

“Do they use boats?” Bertie asked eagerly. “Like the ones that we came across the lake in before the Sorting?”

As he spoke, pictures of the very boats he had been talking about materialised before them, surrounded by other boats of all sizes, some so large they dwarfed the wooden rowing boats completely. Some were veritable giants, white monsters in a sea of blue. Another flick of his wand and Professor Bumble had increased the size of the image, simultaneously provoking movement of the sort seen in wizarding photographs. The students watched, mesmerised by the steady rise and fall of the sapphire waves.

Interrupting their reverie, the professor spoke again, his voice clear and even more cheerful now that he knew he had the class interested. “The smaller boats take fewer passengers and more work, because without magic you must use things called oars to row the boat and move it through the water. Bigger boats normally have engines and can take more passengers – some Muggles even go on holiday on a boat.”

“How come they don’t sink, sir? Without magic, I mean?” enquired Mafalda, who had been silent up to this point.

“That, you see, Miss Hopkirk, is where the Muggles are much cleverer than us. There are certain laws, you see, which govern the way nature works – they’re much too complicated to go into now, and I don’t fully understand them myself – but Muggles know how to manipulate them and balance things called forces out, which means they are able to use them to their advantage. Muggles have been using boats for thousands of years, but it is only very recently that they have become so big and gained engines which are used to propel them through water instead of humans doing the work.”

Arthur sat in utter amazement, eyes wide as he gazed at the pictures and took in all the professor was saying. He had always known that Muggles were clever, getting around every day problems without being able to use magic – but this! This was something else. Maybe Muggles had their own sort of magic that wizards didn’t know about. Maybe that was how they were able to create so many types of transport.

“Now we have one last type of transport to learn about. It’s the most modern of all of them, and my personal favourite. You see, the Muggles have also found a way of flying.”

Gasps of astonishment resounded round the room. Professor Bumble had anticipated their reaction this time, and grinned in response to it, but he still couldn’t help being thrilled that it was one of his lessons keeping the class enthralled. He made a mental note to teach the same thing each year in his NEWT classes.

“These are called aeroplanes,” he informed them, gesturing towards the metal tubes that now floated, clearly unsupported, through the sky. “You can see that they have wings a bit like a bird, but the wings on an aeroplane don’t move. They also carry many passengers and can travel for thousands of miles in the air, over land and sea, to different countries. They are controlled by a Muggle called a pilot who has learnt how to operate the controls and fly a plane. I believe there are also other people who work in them, and walk up and down an aisle between the passengers’ seats to help them.”

“While it’s flying?” Amos questioned.

“Yes, I believe so,” replied Professor Bumble with an amused smile. “You could think of it, I suppose, as an enormous flying carpet, only with many more passengers and made of metal.”

“But Professor,” Arthur began, astounded. “How on earth does it stay up?” An echo of murmured agreement suggested others were wondering the same thing.

“Ah,” replied the teacher, a little sadly. “That is what I do not know. It surpasses even my understanding of the Muggle world.”

Arthur was crestfallen; discovering that there was a limit to Professor Bumble’s knowledge of the Muggle world was perhaps the most disappointing thing to hear since the kitchens had run out of bacon two years ago.

“But that is not to say that one of you will not find out!” the professor encouraged. “Your homework for next week is to choose one of these modes of muggle transport and write an essay about it, using as much information as you can find. If you want to include diagrams to illustrate your work you may, and I have plenty more Muggle books available for extra research. I’ll let you choose the title of your essay yourselves as well.”

The class were slower to pack up and leave that week than usual, but before he had said goodbye to Professor Bumble and gone out the door, Arthur had already decided on the title of his essay: How do aeroplanes stay up? It was a question he was unable to answer after a week’s research, a question he excitedly asked every Muggle-born he met, and a question that it became one of his dearest ambitions to resolve. It was also a question that, more frequently than she would admit to, would cause Molly Prewett to wish that Arthur Weasley had never taken Muggle Studies in the first place.
 




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