Title: Sign, Symbol, Token, Chapter 1
By: PepperjackCandy
Rating: PG13 (up to "second base" explicit, beyond that implied)
Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns everything. I do not.

Warning: This will be a slash story (Harry/Draco) eventually, though romantically-slashy, rather than erotically-slashy. Hence the PG-13 rating.

Yes, I am aware I suck at titles. But I was playing around with the thesaurus, looking for synonyms for signs, and these were the first three words that turned up. I thought it sounded ok as a title.

"Good-bye, Mum. Good-bye, Dad." Hermione said to her parents as she gave them each a hug.

Harry, who had enjoyed this term break more than nearly any other, since he'd spent half of it with the Weasleys and half with the Grangers, stood by, holding his trunk and Hedwig's cage. "Thanks for having me." He shook Mr. Granger's hand, but Mrs. Granger wouldn't have that, instead pulling Harry in for a hug.

"Hermione! Harry!" A masculine voice cried out, followed by a feminine voice calling the same greeting.

Harry and Hermione turned to greet Ron and Ginny. Ron and Ginny exchanged farewells with their parents, just as the conductor gave the final boarding call.

The foursome hurried onto the train, stowing their luggage and taking their companion animals with them to their compartment. The train pulled from the station, and as it hurtled up the tracks toward Hogwarts, they began sharing their stories of term break, and of their hopes for this, their seventh and final year at Hogwarts.

~ ~ ~

"So, Charlie says he's going to approach Dumbledore to see if they can arrange a kind of internship for me to go work with the dragons with him in Romania."

"But what about your hopes of being Head Boy?" Hermione asked, the pout on her face clearly indicating that she had personal reasons for objecting to this plan.

Ron snorted. "Come on, Hermione. With the kind of competition I have, there's no chance I'll be Head Boy this year."

This didn't mollify Hermione, who continued to pout, unnoticed by Ron.

It was also unnoticed by Harry, who sat staring out the window, a vague feeling in the back of his head that something was wrong.

"What's wrong, Harry?" Ginny, sitting at his side, asked him.

Harry jumped as her voice interrupted his contemplation. He turned to look at her. "Nothing. Really, Ginny. Just . . . thinking."

As he looked at the younger girl, his eyes happened to catch Pansy Parkinson walking down the corridor. "Malfoy!" He exclaimed quietly.

"There goes our peace and quiet." Ron mumbled.

"No. That's what's missing. Malfoy."

Hermione snorted. "I didn't know you were looking forward to seeing him."

"I'm not." Harry insisted. "But isn't it strange that he hasn't been around to badger us yet?"

"He's probably off picking on incoming first years. Or kicking puppies." Ron snorted. "Don't worry about him. Are you planning to take Divination again this year?"

Harry shook his head. "I think I've had about all I can stand of Trelawney. I might try an internship myself this term."

"Really?" Hermione responded. "Maybe I should look into it, too. Since I don't have any wizarding world experience, and all."

That got Hermione and Ron talking again, and Harry was able to lapse back into his distracted silence.

After a few minutes, he excused himself and got up to explore the train, looking for Draco.

He started at the head of the train, methodically looking in each car as he walked to the rear of the train. He saw lots of familiar faces, and isolated islands of first years looking just as terrified as he, Ron and Hermione had looked on *their* first trip to Hogwarts, but no Draco.

Finally, in the third compartment from the rear, he found Crabbe, Goyle and Pansy, but Draco was conspicuous by his absence. He lingered outside the compartment for several minutes, his palms sweating and his stomach twisting into knots as he tried to figure out how he could possibly go about starting to ask them where Draco was.

Finally, he decided that he couldn't chance one of them seeing him lingering in the corridor, so, wiping his hands on his pants legs, he glanced into the final few compartments, and, not seeing Draco in any of them, headed back to his compartment.

* * *

Late that night, they pulled into the station and got into the carriage that would take them home to Hogwarts. {Home.} Harry thought. {It really has become my home, hasn't it? In a way that the Dursleys' never was.}

His happiness as he saw the castle drawing nearer was diminished by his preoccupation with Draco's absence. {His father's still a loyal Death-Eater.} Harry thought. {I hope that no harm has come to him. Wouldn't put it past that bastard to turn his son into some kind of human sacrifice.}

Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny, now joined by Neville, wound their way into the Great Hall and staked out five seats at the Gryffindor table, facing the dais at the front of the room. After all of the students had been seated, except for the first years, who were still lined up in the back of the room, Dumbledore got up and began to speak.

"Greetings, students. I would like to start with an announcement. Our Head Boy this year, Draco Malfoy," he paused while waiting for the reactions to settle down, which took several minutes, considering the celebration at the Slytherin table, "will be delayed in his arrival this year. Consequently, Ron Weasley will be filling in as Head Boy until Mr. Malfoy's arrival."

The Gryffindor table burst into thunderous applause. Even a few of the Slytherins, those few who weren't sore winners, applauded politely. Ron blushed furiously. "Figures." He mumbled to Harry and Hermione. "Like first runner up in a beauty pageant." He forced a smile and looked around at the well-wishing Gryffindors around him.

Dumbledore's announcement relaxed Harry slightly. {Dumbledore knows that Malfoy is gone and that he will be here. That means that everything's got to be all right. Doesn't it?}

After the Sorting, and the banquet, the Gryffindors headed for their rooms. Ginny sent Neville on ahead, and hung back with Harry. "Are you all right?" She asked.

Harry nodded, his gaze still directed inward. "Yeah. I'm fine." He forced his mouth into a smile.

"That's good. 'Cause if there was something wrong, I'm sure you'd talk to someone about it. Right?"

"Hmm?" Harry looked down at her. "Yeah. Right. Talk to someone."

They continued the walk toward Gryffindor tower in silence. About halfway there, Ginny pulled Harry aside and waved her hand in front of his face. When he finally blinked and focused on her face, she said, "If you need to talk. About anything. You know where to find me. Right?"

Harry smiled. "I haven't been very good company, have I? I'm sorry. I'm just a little preoccupied. And thank you for the offer. If I need to talk, I'll be sure to find you."

They finished the rest of the walk back to Gryffindor tower in a more companionable silence.

When they reached the portrait of the fat lady, Harry turned to Ginny. "I did mean that when I thanked you for the offer. You and I have shared secrets before, and I know that you'll be the person I come to if I need to talk."

"You're welcome, Harry." Ginny blushed. She was long over her crush on Harry, but she still was a little overawed at the thought that she was friends with one of the most famous wizards of their generation.

The pair hugged, Harry gave the fat lady the password, and they stepped into the Gryffindor common room.

* * *

The next morning, Harry awoke, wondering what had possessed him to be so worried about Draco Malfoy, of all people. {Dumbledore knows what's going on. I don't need to worry about it anymore.}

He threw himself into conversation with Ron and Hermione. "So, who do you think we'll have for Defense Against the Dark Arts this year?" He asked.

"I don't know why Dumbledore doesn't just give the job to Snape and be done with it. After all, he keeps insisting that Snape's trustworthy." Hermione grumbled.

"Yeah." Ron chortled. "And we can't seem to get rid of the git any other way. After a year in the Defense Against the Dark Arts position, he'd be history, just like all of the others."

"Ron!" Hermione responded, aghast. "That's no way to talk about a teacher! Even if he *is* Snape." She added.

Harry caught some movement out of the corner of his eye, and stopped in his tracks. All that was there was a portrait of a witch in a 17th century powdered wig, who simply smiled at him benignly.

"Harry?" Hermione called to him.

Harry shook his head as if to clear it and caught up with his friends. "Sorry. I just thought I saw something."

Ron and Hermione exchanged looks. "All right. Stranger things have happened. Particularly with you around." Ron said as the trio began walking again.

Around the next corner it happened again. Only this time, when Harry stopped to look, he only saw an old gentleman in wizards' robes of an indeterminate period grooming his mustache.

"Something *is* going on." Harry insisted. "Ron, you can see better than I can with these glasses in my way. Keep a watch out on the portraits and see if you can catch anything."

"All right . . ." Ron responded dubiously as they began walking.

Just outside the Great Hall, Ron came to a sudden stop. "You're right, Harry. I saw it this time. Someone is going from portrait to portrait, whispering in their ears. I didn't recognize who it was, though."

"Oh." Hermione said dismissively. "They've probably just got wind of some juicy gossip."

"Yeah." Harry forced himself to relax. "You're right. Probably just gossip."

They entered the Great Hall, and hurried to the Gryffindor table, where Ginny and Neville were saving seats for them. Ron and Hermione sat across from Ginny and Neville, and Harry sat next to Ginny.

As Harry's breakfast appeared on the plate before him, Ginny reached over and squeezed his hand gently. "Is everything all right?" She asked him.

"Yeah. I'm fine. Thanks." He smiled at her gratefully. Though, truthfully, he'd been so wrapped up in what the portraits were doing that he'd completely forgotten his previous day's preoccupation with Malfoy's whereabouts.

Hermione and Ron sat looking at him, forks halfway to their mouths, their jaws agape.

"You guys all right?" He asked them.

"Us? Yeah. We're fine. Nothing wrong at all." Ron and Hermione responded simultaneously, so that Harry couldn't tell which had said what. Then, without another glance in his direction, they went back to eating.

Harry tucked into his food, fighting his natural tendency to want to help people and put things right. Every forkful, he repeated to himself that Draco was fine, that he'd be there any day, that Dumbledore knew where he was and what he was doing.

Neville and Ginny stood to leave the table. "See you guys in Potions?" Neville asked.

"Sure." Hermione smiled as Neville and Ginny walked, hand-in-hand, from the table.

"They are sure a cute couple." Hermione gushed after Neville and Ginny left the room.

"Yeah." Ron grumbled. "I guess. I'd be happier, though, if she hadn't fallen for a guy who's almost a squib. I mean, what's he going to do with his life?"

"Excuse me, Ron Weasley!" Hermione leaped to her feet and put her hands on her hips. "I happen to know plenty of people who live perfectly happy lives without any magic whatsoever!"

"Yes, but they're Muggles!" Ron protested, not realizing this was the wrong tack to take with Hermione, who then, without another word, stormed from the room.

"What'd I say?" Ron asked Harry.

Harry, not wanting to get into a discussion about it, simply shrugged. "Who knows?" He responded, and they finished eating their breakfast in silence.