Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, own Harry Potter or Naruto. They belong to J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros., and Kishimoto-sensei respectively. I borrow for my own amusement.
Summary: Companion to Unravel. Harry gets to know a very eccentric book collector. One-shot HP/Naruto.
In the Company of Secrets
Harry has never seen so much orange in his life. Coming from him, a man who has been Ron Weasley's steadfast best friend for over two decades, he imagines that this says quite a lot about the room he is in now.
This room is practically saturated in orange, a bright, vibrant orange that makes Harry's eyes water and makes him squint in order to see anything. It is a little like looking directly at the sun, he thinks, except that at least you can look away from the sun if you wanted. This room offers him no such reprieve.
A blond man sits behind a small desk, leisurely reading a hard-bound volume. He puts the book down when he senses that Harry's attention is finally on him. He offers no greetings.
All the orange is making Harry cranky, so he doesn't really care anymore when he tells the blond man, Let me guess. Your favorite color is pink.
The man's laugh is short, like a bark, and his teeth are sharply white.
Actually, he says, yes, it is.
Oddly enough, it is a bookstore, of sorts.
Harry had his doubts, of course, but when Toad opens the door to his small warehouse, revealing several haphazard piles of books, he knows he is in the right place. Normally, Ministry policy dictates that Aurors shut places such as this down, but the years have taught Harry the necessity of having all these books in several places, rather than scattered all over the underground. Toad's small, diverse collection of Dark Arts volumes is one of these, and is a well-kept secret among veteran Aurors.
Toad is singular in the respect that he does not practice anything in the books he so devoutly collects. It is strange but Harry knows better than to question it.
I'm looking for a book on blood rituals, he says at Toad's expectant look. A case has come up, particularly troubling because none of them knew what the man was doing to his victims.
The book the man hands him is the color of dried blood and smells of iron. He feels Toad's eyes on him and represses the urge to wrinkle his nose.
What is the payment you desire?
Toad rarely deals with money. Perhaps it would have been better if he did. Instead, he asks for information. On good days, he asks you to do the most humiliating things you wouldn't even think of doing even when drunk. Harry has been told that Toad's sense of humor is worse than the Weasley twins' on a pranking rampage.
The blond man bares his grin slowly. Dare I ask payment from the Boy Who Lived, savior of the wizarding world?
Toad shows him out with a jaunty wave, looking quite at home against the orange backdrop, his wildly spiked hair making Harry think of a miniature sun.
Harry's work as an Auror has given him ample opportunity to meet with many strange individuals. Over time, he has learned not to take much note of their appearance and personal quirks, lest he be disturbed. Thus, it is only in his second meeting with Toad that Harry realizes how young the man looks.
He is dressed in a black shirt and faded jeans. The sneakers he wears make an irritating, squeaking sound as he slides them on the floor, moving towards Harry who is holding out the book on blood magic. The earring on his left ear gleams brightly red.
In a split-second, Harry decides he really doesn't want to know how old Toad is. In any case, he doesn't know how to phrase the question without sounding like an overprotective father.
So, the next time he sees Toad, he asks the next best thing.
The man puts down his book, the very one Harry saw him reading the very first day they met, and drums elegant fingers on his desk.
Do you know what species Muggles think will survive a nuclear blast?
He shakes his head, uncomprehending. It had been a long time since he'd immersed himself in Muggle England. He imagined it to be a vastly different place now.
Cockroaches! Toad declares, a frown lining his unwrinkled face.
I see, he replies noncommittally.
No, you don't, Toad says, wagging a finger. Toads will be the ones to survive, just you wait.
Harry chuckles and thinks he's beginning to like the man.
Most people fear Toad.
Harry doesn't understand this so he takes time to observe the man when his attentions are occupied elsewhere. So far, the list in his brain goes a little something like:
- picks his nose (a lot)
- throws snot (all over the place) AT ME! How come I never noticed??
- tends to do weird hand gestures when distracted
Harry will admit that the man's grin is sometimes predatory; in an instant, Harry is reminded of all the things that have sharp teeth and go bump in the night.
At the same time, he thinks he's seen and faced scarier things in his lifetime.
Toad does not have a wand.
In fact, he doesn't even seem to be a wizard. He listens to music from portable radios, with wires extending from the radio to his ears. Harry wonders whether it is painful. Recently, Harry has found out that Toad has a coffee maker, running on electricity, squirreled away in his warehouse.
Toad emerges from the warehouse in question, kicking open the door since his hands are full with the two mugs of coffee. One mug is round with a wide mouth, the other one is rather standard fare. Both are orange, of course.
Are you a Squib? Harry asks.
Toad looks at him, scrunching his face in confusion.
No, he says. The obviously goes unsaid; the man's tone says it all.
Harry finds it hard to bring the subject up again, even though the next question—Then, what are you?—burns for him to say it.
What do you think a soul is made of, Potter?
Harry drags his focus away from the Daily Prophet in his hands. I don't know, he says honestly.
He meets Toad's gaze and is surprised to find it utterly serious. Without his customary smile, Toad looks older, far older than he had any cause to. Toad does not speak; he does not need to. Harry knows this is the price the man has been waiting for weeks to name.
Eccentric indeed, Harry thinks, before writing a name on a slip of paper. He thinks of Dumbledore, of old, old mystics that seek to uncover the truth about souls and finds that he cannot reconcile that image with Toad.
He leaves the paper folded under Toad's paperweight when he departs, feeling Toad's gaze on him every step of the way.
Toad is waiting for him outside the Ministry.
He is surprised as hell, but as he tells Toad, it is not entirely unwelcome.
I'm treating you to ice cream, he says, tugging on Harry's robes. Come on.
You know what? Toad later mumbles through a mouthful of ice cream, Maybe the Muggles are right.
Harry raises an eyebrow, motioning with his teaspoon for the other man to continue.
Perhaps it is the cockroaches who will survive the nuclear blast after all.
The declaration is neither happy nor sad; there's just some sort of a grim finality to it. It takes Harry a moment to realize, but it somehow feels like goodbye.
The next day, Toad is gone.
The room feels colder, almost. The book he was always reading sits on the desk, a drab, brown thing amidst all the orange. Harry runs a finger down the spine, half-wishing it would be warm so he could think that Toad has just gone out for a cup of coffee.
It is not.
Gingerly, he opens the book, parting the pages until he reaches the well-thumbed ones.
Horcruxes, the book begins, are undoubtedly one of the Darkest magicks known to wizardkind. The making of a Horcrux requires the wizard to split his soul, and put it in a container, any container. Therefore, for so long as that soul shard remains untouched, the wizard lives forever...
 I never said I wouldn't continue Unravel. I was just against the idea of writing the entire story. Can you imagine how boring it would be? XD
 This one has a different feel to it; I can't really explain why. Maybe it's because it's got more conversations than Unravel. And Naruto seems like a child, but not really a child. And this seems to have a semblance of actual plot. Surprise, surprise.
Hints of one-sided NaruSaku, and HarryNaruto (which is entirely accidental, believe me). Harry and Naruto are friends, of sorts. This is not meant to be yaoi but if you'd like to think of it as one, I'm not going to stop you. XD
This happens years after Unravel takes place. Harry has not seen Professor Uzumaki, and Albus does not even know that his dad frequents such shady places as Toad's.
 Yes, this will have a sequel.
 Actual writing process was inspired by thoughts of Aziraphale and his odd little bookstore (Good Omens by Neil Gaiman) and the giggle-worthy thought of an entirely orange bookstore.
 I'm well-aware that both In the Company of Secrets and Unravel are hellishly vague. They were meant to be. However, they were not written completely bereft of hints. Some have figured it out, some have not. Just as long as it gets your mind spinning with possibilities, I consider it a job well done. Who knows? Your theories may be wilder than mine.
Here's hoping you enjoyed it! :)