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the ocean in a suitcase

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You enter the case the same way, down a wooden ladder, into a small wooden house, but the smells are different. Fresh sea breeze blows in through the open windows, up out the top of the case if the trapdoor is left open. It’s not the pungency of decaying weed or dead fish, oh no. It’s a tangy mineral brine, a smell and a taste, the quintessence of a perfect seaside day, accompanied always by that sound like no other, the rush and roar of breaking waves.

Newt’s little house inside the case is still full of strange bottles and tools and tiny creatures, but they are different. Barnacles cling to the whitewashed window frame, their tiny mouths fluttering open into kaleidoscopic butterfly wings, refracting their own shells’ delicate pink and blue. Garlands of sand dollars and bundles of sea oats and magenta dried seaweed hang from the ceiling. Baskets of woven seagrass house families of minute crabs, purple and white, claws and eyes glittering. One carefully wound bundle is silvery rope, a gift, braided from mermaids’ hair. Another is even finer netting, vanishingly pale. Nets kill so many creatures, Newt explains, but they don’t have to, not if you use the right net and watch. You can catch little fish that way to study them, pull them out again and let them go. Not so for the wickedly barbed hooks on one wall. He gives them a dark look and brushes a hand across the largest as he leads the way out, fingers lingering over the point regretfully. I have never understood people hunting for sport, he murmurs.

The little hut from the outside becomes a beach house, the land end of a pier, so you can climb down the stairs to a beach or walk straight out and look down into the water. Innumerable tide pools glisten along sandy shore and beneath the pier’s cool shadow. Tide pools are delicate, however, and Newt would lead visitors instead to the end of the pier, far out past the crashing waves until you can stare directly out over his artificial ocean. From above you can see two dozen different colors of ocean, two dozen different blues of water kept distinct by invisible barriers. You can’t feel them if you trail your bare feet in the water, but you can see them, and feel the temperature change between turquoises and cobalts and steel blues.

All you need is a simple spell and then you can dive.

Down, down, down.

Do you see the tropical sea serpents, fast and bright as tongues of livid flame? Some of the fish are only fish, because a coral reef is an entire animal made of millions, and its residents cannot be separated out. No tropical fish can be called entirely mundane, flickering as they are in weightless synchronized flight. Yet other fish are not fish, but have tiny humanlike faces (or maybe humans have faces like theirs) and change shape the instant before you look away from them. They have human faces, animal faces, unsettlingly familiar inhuman faces. Tiger sharks are among them: not the normal tiger sharks, the other ones. They are gilded, black-striped, cat-eyed beasts, which nuzzle close to Newt’s side and lift sweet fish from his hands and try to steal his waterproof pens. They pull streamers of seaweed around him, twirling them like children with ribbons, but as for visitors they are watching, always watching.

Go deeper down than this, out into the open water. Do you hear the voices of the whales as they sing for the leviathan? Do you see the silvery flashes far below, twisting shapes with nothing else by them? Judging anything by size becomes impossible, with only light rays streaming from far above and softening to infinite twilight grey below. Hanging in that cool water, suspended, feels like the rest of the world has ceased to exist. It is awe-inspiring, and not entirely comfortable. You have to see it at night, though, he says, unconcerned by the well of silence all around, the movement in the depths below. I have some of the milk-sea creatures in here. I don’t know exactly what they are yet, but being underwater when they start to glow—! It’s like rising directly up into the stars. I can put a living galaxy into your hands without doing any magic. All I need is this place at night and a mug. He would not let you keep them, of course.

There are no mermaids here, because mermaids are races of people, not animals. They are welcome, for the most part—a proud any mysterious folk—and they come and go as they please. The last visitors of that nature departed last time he visited the Bermuda in order to greet the great ones. He may have other such visitors soon enough, because he knows not enough about the great ones, and would like to know more. What are the great ones? Ah. There are so many of them. Would you like to see some?

Go even deeper than this. Down, down, down. There is a door in the ocean, a suspended gateway, like a pool of ink, featureless silent black. The muggles know nothing yet about the dark and silent places. They do not even know of the fires that burn in the depths. The seafloor is alive, and mountains rise up through the blind water, and volcanoes burst hot and poisonous, feeding paradoxical alien life. Dragons cruise above the pale sand down there, black like the volcanic rock, though they have no need for camouflage in a place that has never seen sunlight. They themselves are like mountains, wide open mouths drawing in thousands of liters of water at once, filtering out countless tiny meals on yet more creatures no human has yet seen. Is it the 1920s? It could be 2017, the whole story shifted forward, and Newt could still have easily seen more down there than muggles have yet dreamed. Inside the ocean in Newt’s case, the door is not dark because it is closed. It is dark because it is open. You could easily swim through.

It’s not the same unless I turn out the light, he says. Marine specialist or not, Newt is still Newt, and he’s so excited by the prospect that perhaps you allow him this. Cling tight to his wrist and swim with him through the doorway into total night. Newt casts a strong protective spell over you and himself as you enter, and it fits tight like a glove, conveying the sense of immense weight held back from all sides. His wandlight shrinks down to almost nothing and your eyes burn with the strain of trying to see. Hours seem to fit in the span of a few minutes. Then, they arrive. Flares and garlands and pinwheels like witchlight emerge suddenly out of the blackness. Some shine gold and green, and forms resembling miniature ships sail by, trailing rainbows, but most shine blue, eerie electric cyan blue.

An incredibly long line of these inverse fireflies rises up from below, what you think is below, and Newt slowly directs a beam of wandlight for you to see it. More lines arise almost out of sight, rows of tiny lights in single file curling about, lazily synchronized. Then suddenly, with the faint wandlight, you see it, really see it, and comprehend the sheer size of these tentacles trailing out of midnight water, tentacles lined with cold stars. You grab at Newt and his wand flares, suddenly bright. The tiny lights around you go out all at once. A tentacle with suckers larger than your face whips out of the halo of light. This takes place all in complete silence but for your own breathing. The shockwave from the creature’s passing propels you both through the once again featureless water. You cannot actually drown down here, but its immensity takes your breath away.

Yes, that was a kraken, Newt says later, gently prising your fingers off his wrist once you’re rising to the surface through warm water as light as a noonday sky. Only a small kraken. Sitting on the pier, later yet, even magic cannot completely remove the feeling of salt from your skin, nor do you want it to prevent crumbly sand clinging to your toes. Overhead hangs an enchanted canvas sky, its stars a reasonable imitation of reality, better than what you’d see in a city. If you had to guess, however, you’d guess it’s not those stars you would dream of. Instead it would be either those electric creatures in the deep place, or else the luminous waves in that patch of Newt’s ocean. From the pier you can not reach but easily see a haze of cornflower blue sparks turning the water milky. The bioluminescent creatures causing it may or may not be literally magic, but they look like a liquid distillation of the night sky.

Practically none of the world’s oceans have been explored, Newt says cheerfully, feeding chunks of minnow to a small spiny otter. There are always more things like this that no-one has seen. Isn’t it beautiful? And it is.