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Stars are Dead and Trees are Silent

Chapter Text

Smaug the Golden really wasn't a terrible dragon, once you got over the fact that he slept nearly sixteen hours a day.

Thorin Oakenshield could barely recall the day the dragon had come. He knew he was there, of course- Dis often described the great creature swooping out of the sky, bellowing, lighting the air with white hot heat and flame. It was her absolute favorite part of their history lessons, and she'd been barely a twinkle of a thing when it had happened. There had been an uproar, of course. The warriors had been mustered, the children had been secured. Erebor was prepared for the worst and so was Dale.

Then Smaug had done the strangest thing.

He'd landed, quite politely, before the doors of the dwarf city, and he'd howled.

This of course was the important part, because while it was not a part Thorin remembered, it was a part that Dis insisted had changed the course of history for all of their kind. For held securely in his mother's arms, little Prince Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror King under the Mountain, had reached up, past the great stone door towards the crouching, howling beast, and said, "Hurt!"

Indeed, Smaug was hurt. An ill thrown javelin, later determined to be of orcish make, had been lodged in his breast, not near enough to his heart to kill him but beneath his skin and scales. Dragon scales are powerful and thick and the weapon's weight alone was not enough to drag it free; Smaug's claws could not grip it, and so he was in constant pain. Dwarvish tools removed the javelin easily enough, once someone dusted off a dwarvish-to-dragon scroll and got up the courage to approach.

For the favor of treating his injury, the origins of which he would not reveal, Smaug the Golden made a promise to Thror, King under the Mountain.

"I will safeguard your gold and your folk, and no harm shall come to Erebor whilst I sleep below."

Thror, of course, could not say no, for one doesn't say no to a reptile with teeth like swords and claws as big as scythes.

So Smaug the Golden became Smaug under the Mountain. Tunnels were widened, mines were moved, gold was piled high and Smaug slept and guarded and occasionally got himself into riddle battles with the various guards and accountants and others who would come to move some gold or bring some in.

Smaug's other pastime- and admittedly his favorite hobby- was matchmaking. Of course being so large, and sleeping so often, meant that Smaug did not have time or energy to do the running around required of a draconian matchmaker.

So he determined to find himself an assistant.

That is where our story begins.

Chapter Text

Smaug considered and abandoned many possible assistants over the years. He knew what he was looking for. He needed a dwarf (or hobbit, though dwarves were far more plentiful within the mountain) who had a quick wit, a sharp eye, a light touch and a good dose of mischief in them. These traits singly could be found in many good dwarves of Smaug's association; all of them together formed a person who generally wasn't invited in for tea and polite conversation. So Smaug worked his machinations when he could, saw fruits from some of his labors and watched others go abandoned and rot.

It was enough to drive him mad.

Then, one day, the answer fell into his lap, in the most literal of senses.

---

Smaug slept in a great cavern on the lower levels of Erebor. It was one of three massive treasure rooms, all interlocked with columns and great archways. There were counting tables and scales and stations for slotting gold into paper and then there was Smaug's bed, which directly faced the largest archway and around which any entering dwarf had to walk.

Smaug was dozing, as he often did in the mid-afternoon, when he heard a most curious noise.

Namely, cursing. Lots of it, in the guttural tongue of his hosts. There was the softest pad of feet running and then a jump and a slide. More cursing and by the time the dragon had decided whatever was going on demanded at least a mediocrum of his attention, he'd opened his eyes-

to see a dwarfling slide down the pile of gold he used to pillow his chin and wind up smack between his two massive front paws.

Dragon and dwarfling stared at one another for a few moments. It was clear the dwarfling had been doing something he shouldn't; Smaug could smell metal on him that did not belong there.

"Little thief," he rumbled, bringing his snout down to poke at the dwarfling's middle. "Do you have any last words for your maker?"

Smaug rarely got to eat thieves, and while the taste of dwarf was not his favorite, he did relish in reminding those lawbreakers within the mountain precisely what they were dealing with. True, this one was but a youngling, but they tended to start young when they were mortal. Smaug waited for the inevitable sniveling, which might have given him reason to at least consider calling for the guards who patrolled the upper halls.

Instead, the thief rapped him on the snout.

"Eat me once they're gone!" he growled, and Smaug had barely a moment to wonder what had just happened before the dwarfling was burrowing into his chinpillow, gold falling about as he wriggled his way into the pile.

There were more footsteps, louder ones, and Smaug looked up in time to see Fundin and his younger son Dwalin come around the corner. Fundin was Captain of Thror's guard, grim and strong. He stopped short and bowed.

"Lord Smaug." he said.

Smaug inclined his head. Fundin was always respectful. "Guardsman." he said, for he never used any titles for any dwarf, be they pauper or King. "What brings you down to my bed?"

"We are in search of a troublemaker, Lord Smaug." Fundin said. "He has stolen from the marketplace."

Smaug felt a curious thing then. If he were a younger drake, he would perhaps call it a bit of naughtiness.

"There are no thieves here, Guardsman." he said mildly. "I would not abide them."

Lord Fundin sighed. "so you would not, and he's not yet so foolish as to think he can crawl in amongst the king's gold."

Smaug heard something remarkably like a 'stick it up your arse' from the pile and draped his paw over it. "Good hunting, Guardsman." he said to Fundin. "If you need someone eaten, don't hesitate to send a runner."

Fundin's smile was grim. "We won't." he promised. "Come, Dwalin."

Dwalin nodded and followed his father back to the great staircase.

Not a moment later the dwarfling popped out of the gold between Smaug's claws, coins sticking in his thoroughly mussed hairstyle. "Alright," he said, turning to the dragon. "You can eat me now."

Smaug brought his head down close and looked the dwarfling over, noting with some satisfaction that the scrutiny made the boy uncomfortable. Small, yet he would grow lean and sleek. Smart, for he'd gone to the very place no thief would dare to go in Erebor. A risktaker, for he knew that a dragon would as soon eat a thief as speak to it. Quick, for he'd concealed himself easily before being caught.

"You do not smell like you would taste very good." Smaug said at last, disdain dripping from his forked tongue. "I doubt you have bathed in days."

"Hey not all of us can afford the bathouses an' the jump into forlorn lake's a bit high for my liking." the dwarf snapped back.

"Are you not afraid of me?" Smaug asked.

"I'm shaking in my blasted boots you great big galoot." the dwarf replied. "Now eat me or no because if the answer's no I've a fence to see."

Smaug thought, and kept his paw right where it was.

"You owe me a debt." he said at last.

The young dwarf stared up at him. "A debt?" he asked, cautious.

"Yes. I could have handed you over; I did not. Moreover, I have not eaten you. Therefore, you owe me a debt."

"And what can a thief possibly offer a dragon?" The dwarf demanded.

"hm. What indeed." Smaug grinned, and it showed off all of his very pointed teeth. "I wish to make a messenger of you, dwarf."

"Nori."

Smaug snorted smoke. "I do not care what your name is, dwarf."

"well I do, and I know yours, so you should know mine and it's Nori." the dwarf replied.

Smaug rolled his eyes. "Very well. Nori. Beneath my right side you will find a note. Take it to Frin who works in the upper level archives."

"That's it?" Nori asked, eyes wide. "That's all you want?"

"As you said," Smaug replied regally, "what else can a thief offer a dragon?" he moved his paw and gestured to his side. "It is in a small box. Go."

Nori, shaking his head and muttering, climbed out of the pile of gold and slipped his way around to Smaug's right side. He found the box and the letter within. He came back around to face the dragon and his suspicion was clear. "This note's the size of one of our people." he said.

"so it is."

"How does a dragon write so small?"

"I have my ways." Smaug replied. "Now, take the note to Frin and you are in the clear." Smaug would be able to gauge the reactions of Haldi the accountant, the dwarf Frin was sweet on, by the time the other dwarf came in to do his work. All those two needed was a little nudge.

Nori looked down at the note, then up at Smaug. "You ain't gonna report what I stole?" he asked.

"I am in charge of the treasures in these rooms, little thief Nori, not of all the gold in Erebor." Smaug replied haughtily. "it does not matter to me that a jeweler mislaid one of their wares. Steal from me, however, and I shall roast you alive."

It was quiet for a few moments. Then Nori shrugged. "Fair enough." He looked at the note. "Frin, huh? Just slip it on the desk?"

"As subtly as you can."

Nori grinned. "Subtle, I can do, don't you worry, Master Dragon."

"My name is Smaug." the dragon said pointedly.

Nori's smile only got bigger. "I know." he gave a joker's rendition of the traditional dwarvish bow. "It'll be done, and I take my leave. Thanks for not eating me!"

The dwarfling turned and ran up the steps, making his way to the shadows by the staircase.

Smaug watched him go, and wondered.

---

Dwarflings like Nori were curious, and Smaug was counting on that curiosity.

It didn't occur to him that resourcefulness would instead be the bylaw.

Yet when Nori came dashing in a week later- this time from the left far corridor, and trailing a very nice string of pearls behind him- Smaug found he needed to stretch his wings out.

Beneath his shelter and concealed from the guards running past the dwarfling muttered, "So, uh, any other messages you need sent?"

Smaug laughed, a real and hearty laugh, for the first time in decades. This, he thought to himself, was the beginning of a most entertaining relationship.

Chapter Text

Nori did not always hide with Smaug; it would become too obvious, the little thief told the dragon, and besides it would ruin a perfectly good hiding place if ever he was REALLY in the fire. Smaug only snorted and demanded to know the progress of his schemes.

For once he had Nori, oh, he had schemes. Smaug had realized not long after he began his odd relationship with the little sneak that Nori had a knack for getting places and learning things; he knew dwarves from the foot of Forlorn Lake all the way up to the top of Thror's fortress, and people who came into the mountain, besides. It made leaving notes and trinkets, arranging meetings and accidental 'oh I haven't seen you in a while's that much easier. It hadn't taken Nori more than a month to realize just what it was Smaug did with his spare time and one night (for Nori often came at night after the first few times, as no one was in the treasure room and he could easily hide in the crook of Smaug's neck) the young dwarf asked him why he did it.

Smaug considered the question. "Partially out of boredom." he said.

"Well I'd gathered." Nori was knotting together pieces of red rope, the origins of which he would not reveal; Smaug was certain they were stolen, as they were made of very fine silk and smelled of an eastern land. "but why else?"

"Do I need another reason?"

"I think it's caus' you like us."

Smaug snorted. "I am not bothered by you. A few industrious dwarves keep me entertained."

"No, you like us." Nori said. "If you didn't, you'd have thanked the King for your chest by not eating him and been on your way."

Smaug huffed. "You are a ridiculous dwarfling and I shall eat you."

"I don't taste good." Nori reminded him, and then they heard the bell sound. "Ah, damn it. Mother Dori's gonna be all up in arms." He climbed down off of Smaug. "I'll keep an eye on the shopkeep an' the stone mason over at Tiger's Eye Alley. I think the mason'll move tomorrow."

"He'd better." Smaug muttered. it had taken nearly three days to get them in a position to meet. "Go on before I decide I am peckish."

Nori made a rude gesture at Smaug and stuffed his knotwork into his satchel before sliding down a gold pile and running off into the night. Smaug watched him go and was thoughtful.

Nori often spoke of 'mother Dori'. Smaug knew from their short conversations involving personal affairs that Dori was not a mother, nor was he female- he was Nori's older brother. Nori did not speak of his family often, nor did he talk of an apprenticeship, which he should by all means have, being of the age a dwarfling chose a craft to specialize in. It was none of Smaug's business- the boy was clearly a thief and it wasn't a dragon's work to dissuade a miscreant from being what they were.

Still, it was a curious thought- what was his little minion's life like, when he left behind the vast treasures of Smaug?

Smaug decided that it would be entertaining to find out, and so began to plan.

---

It took a half a year for Smaug's plan to fall into place, which, for a dragon, was not so very long at all. In that time Smaug had arranged precisely ten worthy courtships, and he kept a record of them in a book buried beneath one of his piles. He had not seen Nori for three days and that was good, because Nori would only complicate things.

It had been a long time since Smaug had case the simulacra spell.

All dragons were versed in magic, of course; they were constructed partially of it. Smaug was as accomplished a sorcerer as any of his kin and when he set his mind to it, he could do great and terrible things. Forming a sleeping dragon image about himself was not so hard; it was like putting on a blanket and making the blanket solid.

The shrinking spell was a little more difficult, for the last time Smaug had tried it had been when he was young and working very hard to impress a beautiful green dragoness. He'd mucked up spectacularly and spent the rest of the summer being teased by his wingmates and confined to the eyrie until his wings returned to their natural size.

Years had given him skill and grace; this time he sang the spell perfectly, with no flaws.

A large, sleeping Smaug remained with the gold of Erebor.

A toy-sized, chortling Smaug trotted from the treasure room in search of the great stair.

This would be most entertaining, indeed.

Chapter Text

Smaug had never visited the upper levels of Erebor. He'd never had the need. Yet it seemed being with a dwarfling was a bad influence on him; he found that while his intentions involved discovering the whereabouts of his erstwhile assistant, he instead wandered the long hallways and wide courtyards with the air of a great outing. A holiday, if dragons took such things. It was no great deal for him to travel about unseen. The shrinking spell had made him miniscule, and the carvings upon columns and down streets were deep. Smaug had no problems climbing about and when he found a suitable hand cart being wheeled through the archway upon which he crouched, he took the opportunity and dropped in.

The dwarf had no idea he suddenly had a passenger, and Smaug settled back to watch Erebor pass by.

One of the things Smaug appreciated about the children of Durin was their eternal delving; Erebor was full of caverns and buildings growing out of the stone. From the forlorn lake near the bottom of the mines to Thror's throne room and fortress near the heights, everything was growing and everything was beautiful. The trader was bound for the market and Smaug nestled in his rolls of flannel, content for the moment to observe.

Observation changed to action when the cart passed by the row of food stalls and shops. Smaug stuck his nose in the air and inhaled, feeling a sudden and deep appreciation for the other thing Dwarves were good for- namely, their cooking.

I can hardly find the brat on an empty stomach, Smaug thought, and abandoned his cart. On the ground it was a little more hazardous for there were dwarven boots and curly hobbit feet all around. Still, Smaug did well enough and he darted from stall to stall and shop to shop, taking nibbles out of things and delighting in how much more flavorful and filling they were when he was so small.

Then, as he was preparing to take a nice bite out of a roast a vendor had working on an inset grill, he smelled it.

Nori's scent was very particular to dwarves; it was a tad spicy, sort of sweet and sour at the same time. If Smaug had to guess he would say that Nori's father had been from nearer to the southern lands of Men than most of the dwarves in Erebor. What he caught was a remnant of that same odor-

and it appeared to be coming from the door the tea shop across the way.

Smaug huffed to himself. Well, he was certainly sated for now, and he did love a good tea, difficult as it was to enjoy when he was his normal size. Perhaps if he crouched beneath the right table he would hear where his charge had gone to. This decided Smaug jumped from the stone of the vendor's grill to the wooden post holding up his awning. Tiny claws dug into wood as Smaug climbed. Once on top of the cheery yellow silk he calculated the distance, spread his wings, and jumped.

There were a few natural currents in Erebor, sweeping in from the various cracks and caverns the mountain had. He caught a short one and landed on the awning of the shop, and then made his way down. Once on the ground he peered in, sniffing.

It was a quaint shop, with a counter and stone tables and stools. There were a few customers and a wall of niches in which were hidden loose teas, labeled neatly in cirth. Smaug could see a beaded curtain leading to the back and beyond that curtain, a set of stairs; perhaps the owners lived up top, as was traditional with family businesses? He trotted inside and underneath a table, narrowly missing getting trod upon by a hobbit foot.

Nori had been in the shop, and recently. Smaug could smell him just about everywhere, and had to rexamine his thoughts on the spice of the dwarf's scent- that came from the tea. There were two other scents that were similar to Nori's, one more grassy and the second bringing to mind sheep. Curious, as dwarves were not known to spend great amounts of time with livestock. Smaug tucked the thought away and climbed up to a window ledge, where he could conceal himself in amongst a few shards of crystal set to catch the light.

A very young dwarf was in the far corner of the shop, reading a scroll and sticking his tongue out a little in concentration. This was the origin of the sheep smell, and Smaug knew it came from the dwarfling's knits. He was younger than Nori, barely beginning to show a beard. A brother? Nori had not mentioned another brother.

"Dori," said one of the dwarves at another table, "can we get another pot here?"

"Give me a moment lads and I'll be there."

Smaug focused his attention on Dori. He was the grassy Nori smell, and he was very good looking for a dwarf, with dark brown hair and a beard braided neatly up under his chin. He had a tea towel on one arm, and was wearing gauntlets to protect himself from the steam. He pulled a fresh pot down from the shelf behind him the moment he'd finished with his latest customer, and neatly began brewing using the little basket for the loose leaves that fit just into the pot's rim. The dwarves talked with him, laughing, and he talked back.

No doubt- this was Mother Dori, and Mother Dori ran a teashop.

It was a perfectly respectable profession and therefore was about as interesting as watching a tree grow, and Smaug was no elf to be fascinated by THAT. No wonder Nori was so often hiding from the guards.

Smaug considered lighting the drapes on fire, just to give the place a little bit of excitement, when a hobbit woman came in. The dragon turned his head so fast he almost missed Dori's "Why Miss Belladonna! Good to see you!"

Smaug did most of his matchmaking by the nose- literally. Those skinchangers he had met and not eaten could confirm that while there was no such thing as a perfect match, some smells just meshed together in a way that insinuated eternal happiness, or at least something like it. Smaug had arranged numerous courtships in his life using this tried and true technique. Since he'd come to the mountain he'd delighted in sorting out the scent of all the different dwarves who both engaged with him on a daily basis and lived just above him in Erebor proper. He was convinced that with the right smells and the right push, there wasn't a match he couldn't make.

One, however, had been eluding him for some time.

He had yet to tell Nori about it; the dwarf wasn't terribly interested yet in Smaug's machinations, only in the opportunities it afforded him to see new people and do new things (and in some cases go back and rob those new people.) Smaug felt it was understandable, then, that he hadn't told Nori about his Ultimate Plan.

It would be the crown jewel of his meddling, the alpha and omega of courtship.

Smaug the Golden had every intention in the world of finding the perfect match for Thorin son of Thrain.

If he could set a consort or a queen on the throne beside the young dwarf who had first noticed his plight, Smaug would feel satisfied indeed- and relieved at last of a burden he had carried since his time with the dwarves began.

Of course the problem with dwarves was that they were an insular folk. A dwarf wedding a Man was nearly unheard of; an Elf? Out of the question. Hobbits, though, hobbits were another matter, being similar in lifespan and living so close to the mountain. Perhaps...

All thoughts besides the scent forgotten, Smaug climbed down from his crystal perch and crept his way up to the main counter. She smelled perfect, even with all the peppery grass of the tea in the air. Who was this hobbit maid? How old was she? Was she married? How simple would it be to kill her husband- and could he convince Nori to do it?

Right, Nori. He shook his head and climbed up on top of the counter. Concealed behind another in a long line of teapots he listened to the woman speak to Dori as the dwarf set another pot in his stone sink to wash.

"-and another bag of that apple blossom, Dori, if you could be a dear. Bungo's been under the weather and he loves it so."

"Be sure to keep him out of the rain." Dori said, "it's been awful these past few days. How is Bilbo?"

"Oh he's fine. Sprightly as a twig and still asking me to come and see the dragon."

Dori laughed. "Our dragon isn't one to be gawked at." he said. Smaug privately disagreed; it did wonders for one's vanity when one was regularly gawked at.

"I've told him so, but he is part Took, you know."

"So he is." Dori acknowledged this like it meant something and perhaps to Hobbits it did. Smaug wasn't sure- he hadn't spent any time with them, as they were small and timid mouthfuls who hid too easily. Perhaps Nori knew something.

Right. A dragon's job was never done- and he had yet to find his erstwhile assistant or learn more about this enchanting Belladonna. Smaug sat up on his hindquarters, fully prepared to ask the woman fora formal introduction with all the grace he could muster as the fifty fifth grandson of Glaurung the Great, perhaps blow a little flame just to show off-

when the world abruptly went dark, and hot, and vaguely steamy.

Smaug the Golden, Matchmaker Under the Mountain, was trapped in a freshly washed teapot.

Chapter Text

Well.

This was embarassing.

Smaug paced around the teapot (no easy feat, seeing as the entire circumfrence of it was about the length of his body, and so he was nearly stepping on his own tail) and thought.

Then he heard Dori talking. the words were a little muffled through the spout of the pot but dragon ears were keen. Smaug sat up on his haunches.

"-and so Fundin put him in the cells to the east to cool off. If Mother hadn't been such good friends with him I've no doubt he'd have dragged Nori all the way up to the throne room to face Thror. Honestly, Lady Baggins, I don't know what I'm going to do with the lad! He runs off at all hours, tells no one where he's going, and when I do see him again he's either climbing in a window to escape a guard or has one marching him through the door!"

Yes, yes that sounded like Nori. Smaug tried to remember where precisely the eastern cells- meant for general rabble rousers and brawlers who needed to get sober- were located. Not far, he didn't think.

"Oh he's wild enough now, Dori, but don't you fret. I'm sure he'll settle down."

Smaug snorted a thin jet of flame. Nori was not going to settle down. In his professional, scaley opinion, Nori was only going to get worse.

"He's as bad as our Uncle." Dori groused. Smaug ran his tiny claws along the inside of the pot. He didn't like the way Dori spoke about Nori- with a sort of exasperated irritation. He didn't like his fifth youngest sister all that much but when she'd had her wing punched through by that arrow near the Ash mountains he'd eaten the hunter who did it, hadn't he? Family was family.

Right. He had the name of the hobbit lass and there was power in names. He could find her again, and find her he would, but first- he really, really needed his assistant back.

Which meant getting out of the teapot.

Smaug prepared to throw himself against the side, reasoning that melting the teapot at his current size would take too long, and besides Dori would obviously notice that something was wrong, and that was presuming that the stone counter could take the heat produced. No, simply knocking it over and dashing out would do him just fine, and Smaug lifted himself up to prepare for a mighty headbutt. He moved forward-

and found he was full of unchecked momentum, as Dori had lifted the teapot up to fill it with water while bidding Belladonna Baggins goodbye.

The Great Golden Wyrm had just about five seconds to think Oh shite and attempt to open his wings for a glide before he fell off the countertop, landed, and rolled into the middle of the teashop floor.

There was a breath of a pause.

"SNAKE!" one of the patrons shrieked.

Smaug, insulted and rightfully so, drew himself up on his haunches. "I BEG your pardon?" he demanded.

"TALKING SNAKE!"

A teapot clanged very close to Smaug's nose. He blinked and looked up at Dori, who was much, much bigger than him.

"Out!" the shopkeeper cried. "Out, out you filthy thing!" Down came the broom.

Smaug made a decision based entirely on superior tactical knowledge.

He ran- out of the tea shop, into the street, up the nearest awning pole and back to the rooftops, where he stopped to inspect his scales for dust and chips (impossible but one could never be too sure) and to mutter angrily to himself.

Dori was going to RUE THE DAY he threw a TEAPOT at Smaug the Golden!

...the day would, however, have to be rued later. At the moment there was an assistant to save. Smaug set off for the eastern cells, still muttering darkly to himself.

---

Chapter Text

Nori was convinced that the mold in the bread had caused him to see things.

That was the only possible explanation for why a tiny Smaug was crouched on top of the helm of the guardsman who was doing rounds.

"What are you looking at?" The guardsman demanded. Nori couldn't help it.

"A horse's arse." He said.

The guard slammed his palm against the bars, rattling them. "Laugh it up, brat. One more time and it's your hands cut off at the basalt tower." He marched on and Nori watched as the tiny mold-born smaug climbed down the guard's back. Just before the guard rounded the corner to the watch desk, the dragon jumped off, opening his small wings, gliding to the floor in the same moment the guard yelped. "OW!"

"Thrak what the hell?"

"Something bit me!" the guard exclaimed as he disappeared from view.

"Right. And my mam's secretly King Hrathi Stonefist."

"I'm serious! Like, like a snake or something!"

Mold-born Smaug let out a gust of flame as he roared in outrage, which would have been impressive had he been his full size. Instead, it was just sort of cute. Still grumbling he waddled his way up to the door of Nori's cell, sat on his haunches, and did his dragonly best to look offended by the dwarf's presence.

"What are you doing in here?"

Nori squinted at his tiny hallucination. "Waiting for the opportune moment."

"Well, the opportune moment has come, and it has gone." Smaug said irritably. "Do you know I have been called a snake TWICE today?"

"Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?" Nori asked. "You know, you don't look anything like what I see when I've had too much ale."

"I am not some purile alcohol-addled fantasy, you twit." Smaug replied. "We have work to do. Get out of there."

Nori shook his head. "I can't." He said.

"Can't?" Smaug scoffed. "Can't? Are you, or are you not, the dwarf who hid from Fundin, right hand of Thrain, in my gold pile?"

"They witched it." Nori said glumly. "The lock's melted every pick I have."

Smaug snorted. "No they-" he looked at the door. "Glaurung's left tit, they did." He craned his neck to look at the lock. Runes had been etched into the metal, glimmering faintly in his superior vision. Why had they done that? This was the guardhouse for drunkards, not hardened criminals.

The answer was sitting glumly in front of him, and in spite of himself Smaug had to grin.

Oh, Nori would be trouble when he was an adult- and the Guardsmen of Erebor could see it coming.

"Well, this can't hold. Cover your ears. Or don't, I don't care."

Nori covered his ears and rolled over for good measure. It couldn't hurt to do as the hallucination said. Either something happened or it didn't; either way he wouldn't have to look at the guard during the next patrol.

Smaug unfurled his tiny wings and began to sing. The words were in draconic, grating to the senses of the Free Peoples just as the Black Speech was (though one shouldn't tell a dragon that; they get mightily offended). The lock began to get hot, going from red to white in a matter of seconds without melting. Smaug went up a few notes, ended in a snarl- and the door popped open.

Smaug sat back with a nod. Excellent work. Very tidy.

"Nori, get up."

Nori didn't stir. Smaug grumbled and trotted inside. He found a soft bit- an elbow- and nipped.

"OW!" Nori sat up. "What-" He looked at the door, and then down at Smaug. "Oh." he said, sounding very confused. "I didn't hallucinate you."

"Of course you didn't!" Smaug exclaimed. "Now hurry up and let's go. Time is of the essence." Smaug made a mental note to check and see if Nori had a bent for magic. He couldn't be coming to rescue his delinquent of an assistant every time Nori tripped up and got caught.

"Alright, alright." Nori said. "Hang on, just let me.." he dug around in the padding of the thin cot, and removed from it a fine enameled pendant. Smaug snorted. A pretty bauble, but not worth getting caught over. Nori glared at him. "It's for Dori." he said defensively.

"Ah, yes. Dori." Smaug said darkly. "We have had the displeasure of meeting."

Nori swiftly straightened the cell as neatly as if he'd been a guest at an inn and then approached the door, Smaug wandering along beside him. "You met Dori? Why are you so small?"

"I am so small because a dragon cannot simply wander around Erebor looking for his moron of an assistant without someone getting up in arms about it." Smaug replied. "And yes, I met your brother. He threw a teapot at me."

Nori paused and stared down at Smaug.

"What?"

"Dori? threw a teapot at you?"

"He did!" Smaug said.

"Dori's terrified of you." Nori said. "He wouldn't dare."

"I am a great deal smaller than usual." Smaug pointed out sulkily. You hadn't lived until you'd seen a tiny dragon sulk. Nori shook his head and listened for the guards. There were none forthcoming, and Nori had been the only inmate in this particular hall. "Come on we've got to get up there." Nori pointed to the grating just above their heads, a basic airshaft that led out into one of the main squares.

"We are not crawling in air vents like common thieves." Smaug said.

"Hey, some of us are common thieves," Nori replied, glaring at the dragon. "and we're good at it."

"Not good enough to avoid getting caught, I see." Smaug said.

"Shut up and let's go." Nori replied.

"There isn't enough of a draft for me to climb up." Smaug said. "You'll have to carry me."

"Carry you?" Nori asked. "In what? I don't think you'll fit in my tunic and you certainly won't fit in my pickspocket."

"You don't have any other pockets?"

Nori gave Smaug a flat look.

Smaug sighed a stream of smoke and looked Nori over. "Hold still."

Nori didn't ask why, he just did as he was told. Smaug crouched down, wriggled his haunches like a cat about to pounce, then made a vertical leap that landed him on Nori's head.

Nori, eyes wide, waited as Smaug proceeded to wriggle under his standard three loose braids.

"You need to wash your hair." The dragon complained.

"Sorry, we don't get any soap in prison." Nori replied tartly. Then he made for the wall.

The air vent opened up in an alleyway not far from the fountains. Nori walked out whistling, keeping an eye out for guards. There didn't seem to be any, as it was nearing shift change; likely as not they were all headed out for a quick meal before work. A few of Nori's less-than-reputable friends saw him and waved. He waved back but didn't approach, universal sign for 'I don't need attention'. One of the group called out, "I like your hair!" before they moved on.

His hair?

Nori caught a glimpse of himself in the reflective waters of the fountain. Smaug's wriggling had produced three distinct bumps where once his hair had lain flat, carried by the weight of his braids.

Unique, yes. Nori stroked his short beard and thought. He could work with that.

"Are you done admiring yourself?" A tiny reptilian voice hissed peevishly.

"And if I'm not?"

"I will bite the top of your ear clean off is what. The game is afoot, Nori! We've work to do!"

The young dwarf sighed and nodded. He headed for another alleyway. By the time the next round of guards came into the square, and by the time his empty cell was discovered, he was long gone.

Chapter Text

Smaug looked around the little hole in the wall that Nori had brought them to. It was a small cave in a section of tunnels that had been blocked off, for fear of their imminent collapse. Smaug personally thought it foolish of a dwarf to go where he knew the stone wasn't safe, but Nori seemed to have stabilized the cave and its exits with carefully placed pillars and blocks. It was a hideout with all the required accoutrements- a bed, several storage spaces, and many knives stashed in hidy-holes. From behind an old weaving of the mountain Nori withdrew a roll of paper, a plain wooden box, and string.

"This does not look like my treasure room." The dragon said icily as the dwarf brought his materials to the splintery desk.

"We'll get there. I've got to wrap this and send it first." Nori said, waving the pendant around.

"You're going to mail it?" Smaug asked, hopping from the floor to the desk. Nori nodded absently as he used a knife to slit the paper to a proper length. "As soon as it's wrapped up, yeah."

Smaug was baffled. "I reiterate. You steal presents for your brother, then you mail them?"

Nori shrugged. "It's how I got him to take that purple silk for his second best coat. It's not like he can tell my wrapping from anyone else's- he gets stuff from secret admirers all the time."

That, Smaug had not been aware of. "Your brother has suitors?"

"Male and female." Nori said, "and sometimes Thirds and Those Without. Everyone wants Dori, he's bloody gorgeous, but he doesn't want any of them. Says they'd be too much trouble and I'm trouble enough."

Smaug looked at the pendant, then at Nori, whose expression had gone dark.

"Move." The dragon said.

"What? Why?"

"Just do it." Smaug crawled over Nori's arm and inspected the wooden box. Plain, the kind that could be bought (or in Nori's case nicked) from any halfway decent woodworker. That wouldn't do at all. Smaug carefully stood on his hind legs and set the box up vertically, so that he was looking at the lid.

"What are you doing?" Nori asked.

Smaug didn't answer. He sat back, shook his head to settle himself, and blew a thin and delicate flame. The moment it touched the wood, it charred, leaving a burned line. Still breathing fire, the dragon worked his way over the lid and around the edges. By the time he was done, the box was covered over in delicate scrollwork that spoke of a master artisan.

Nori stared at it.

"There." Smaug said, feeling pleased with himself. "Your brother will run himself silly trying to figure out who made this box, and you'll be in the clear. I don't fancy coming up here to save you. It will get monotonously boring."

Dori would never figure it out. He'd have to find one of the draconic scrolls in the library.

He would then see that the scrollwork could be taken apart at turns to read 'beware you teapot throwing blowhard'.

Best not to tell Nori that.

"You're weird." Nori said, and placed the pendant inside on a bed of woodshavings. He wrapped the box quickly and tied off the string in the most basic of basic knots. "There, let's go before someone comes knocking."

"Secret hideouts are so named because they are secret." Smaug pointed out as he climbed up Nori's arm and returned to his hair.

"Yes, they are, but I'm not a Master, not yet. My Uncle Sori- he can hide in plain sight." Nori sighed worshipfully. "He says I'll be old enough to apprentice in two years."

Apprentice? For what? Nori had shown no inclination towards anything, save a bit of a dabbling in matchmaking, and the right hands for thievery. Before Smaug could ask they were out on the main thoroughfare again. Nori dropped the box in one of the chutes which led down to the mail rooms and took a right, swinging up a high street that would curve around to one of the many back corridors he had discovered into the Dragon's lair.

Smaug kept his face poked out of the farthest peak of Nori's hair just a little bit, watching the dwarves go by. He was impatient, and wanted very much to be his normal size again. Once he was big it would be a simple matter to convince Nori to leave the mountain and head down to the Shire, where-

His thoughts were interrupted by Nori's soft curse and sudden movement to the right, into an alleyway. Without pause the dwarf took to the wall and began climbing with a fluid sort of grace that surprised Smaug.

"What are you doing?" The dragon asked as they reached the rooftop. Nori rolled and put a finger to his lips, then pointed up the street they had been traveling on.

"Dwalin," the dwarf hissed.

Smaug craned his neck a bit. Nori sighed and lifted his head so that they could both look over the edge of the building.

Sure enough, there was Dwalin, secondborn son of Fundin. Barely into his sixties and already a trained royal guardsman, he was stalking down the street with a glare he'd obviously inherited from his father.

"Someone's told him I got out. He only looks that way when I give him the slip. One of these days," Nori hissed, "I'm gonna put a knife in that arrogant prick's back."

Smaug snorted. Nori talked a big game, but he highly doubted the young dwarf had ever killed anything worse than a fly. He returned his gaze to Dwalin. The young guard was passing just under them now, headed in the vague direction of the cells Smaug had released Nori from. The dragon put his little paws up on the roof's edge and sniffed.

It hit him like flying through a hurricane. Pepper, iron, sweat, blood and blade oil mingled with a musk that was unique to Dwalin, as it was unique to every dwarf. Intriguing by itself, but not by itself so shocking.

What was was how perfectly that scent mixed with Nori's, the spice and gold and cheap ale, mixed with- and here was the kicker- a lust so intense it almost had a flavor to it.

Smaug whipped his head around to stare at Nori, who was still silently snarling at Dwalin's back.

They were perfect for one another.

Oh, dear.

Nori continued to glare until Dwalin was gone, then he climbed back down and continued on as though nothing had happened. Smaug, who normally would have taken the opportunity to tease Nori about being captured by a dwarf who was only a few years his senior, instead was silent and thoughtful.

He'd never thought to find a match for Nori. Nori seemed unmatchable. It happened, sometimes, that a person didn't have a scent that mixed with others.

Yet Nori did have a match. A match that happened to be the noble son of a noble family, whose chosen line of work until he stepped up as the bodyguard of the King was in direct conflict with Nori's current profession. Smaug wasn't a fool- if left to their own devices, Nori would grow up into an unrepentant criminal, and Dwalin would stand opposite him as his chief and greatest enemy.

How delicious!

There was something to be said of love that grew out of such circumstances; often it was all the stronger. Well, that was what story books said; Smaug had found that houses built on such foundations were just as easily destroyed as any.

There was no time to think about it at the moment. Smaug had a bigger, more important match to make. He would spirit away Belladonna Baggins, and bring her to Thorin son of Thrain. That was a certainty.

Nori stared up at the simulacra of Smaug sleeping. "Mahal's dangling balls." He said. "How'd you do that?"

"Magic." Smaug said primly. "Now let me down."

Nori crouched in the gold and Smaug climbed off of his hair, scampering over the gold and knocking coins and pearls and rings asunder as he bounded for his fake body. He reached the large head of the thing and seemed to disappear. Nori felt a chill in the air, the kind that set one's hackles on edge. Then the large Smaug glimmered briefly. He opened one great eye, yawned, and said, "Oh, this is much better."

"Don't like being small?" Nori teased. Smaug gave him the same look an offended cat would. Nori climbed up the gold and into his typical hiding place to the side of Smaug's neck. "Alright, you were so gung-ho to come find me, what do you need?"

Smaug grinned, and his scythe-sized claws clattered together as he steepled them. "I need you to visit the Shire, Nori."

"The Shire?" Nori asked. "What for?"

"Something very important indeed." Smaug replied, and with the way he said it, Nori felt a change in the wind.

Chapter Text

Nori was not enthused at the idea of going to the Shire.

"Do you know how hard it is to get out of this mountain?!" He demanded. It had been two weeks since their small adventure in lock up, and it was late evening. Nori was counting copper disks. Where he'd gotten them, Smaug didn't know, and what he was planning on doing with them was a mystery.

Smaug was not worried, about copper disks or getting outside. "It is a very large mountain. No doubt you know plenty of bolt holes you could wriggle out of."

"Well, yeah," Nori said, "Only if I did then Uncle Sori would know!"

"Sori?" Smaug asked. "You've said that name before."

"Yeah. Uncle Sori." Nori spoke the name with a sort of reverential whisper. "He'd want to know where I was going and when I thought I might be back an' have you told Dori where you're headed." Nori paused. "Even though Dori hates him."

An uncle that Dori hated?

"Take me to him." Smaug demanded.

Nori stared at him. "Okay." He said. "How about you just get up, fit your huge arse out that door, and we'll go marching through the city to the Court and-"

Smaug, who had been about to point out that he could shrink at will and whining little thieves had no right to be so snarky when they were still in hiding, had his thoughts rather abruptly altered. "The Court?" He asked silkily.

Nori stared up at him. Then his eyebrows dove and his mouth shut up tight into a straight line.

"You don't mean the Court of the King." Smaug said conversationally. "The only way you'll ever show up there is in chains."

Normally Nori would have jumped at the insult, declaring he could go wherever he would and that Smaug was just a dusty old lizard. He held his peace and Smaug continued, "since that is not the Court you speak of, there can only be one other, and against it I have been set for as long as I have been Dragon under this mountain."

Nori made an interesting noise, sort of like a squeak but more like a whimper. Smaug grinned, and the grin was full of sharp silvery teeth.

---

Ever since the beginning of time, there have been thieves.

So long as an item was owned, there was someone else who coveted it beyond the owner. This Smaug knew with great intimacy, for dragons had been designed in the elder days to go forth and take with force what the good people of the world might have gathered.

Since taking up residency in Erebor, Smaug had stood as lone guard against a seemingly never-ending stream of thieves, brigands, and ner'do wells. There had always been a sort of organization to them. Rarely had Smaug ever encountered two thieves at the same time, and rarer still did they come close to him. No thief had tried to steal from Smaug's horde in a long time; most of the thieving happened above, in the city, to the eternal frustration of the Guard.

How, was the question. How did rogues, mistrustful as a rule, manage not to overlap their thieving? How was it, precisely, that hideouts larger and more impressive than Nori's could be discovered by one delve patrol and gone by the time a raid could be organized?

The answer was as simple as it was fantastic.

The various villains of Erebor held Court. There they debated rights to secret tunnels, made deals over loot, hired mercenaries or were hired. Counterfeiters could get the supplies they needed from industrious and cash-strapped metalworkers, spice merchants could bypass the laws of the King to obtain the medicinal, the rare and the dangerous. A shadow undercurrent, a mirror of the nobility who ruled from the heights of the mountain.

Most regarded it as fantasy, a story told to dwarflings to keep them inside during the sleeping hours. That was what dwarrowdams liked.

Smaug knew better. He had the years of experience and the nose to confirm that the Court of Thieves was much more than a bedtime story.

Yet In all his years guarding under the mountain, Smaug the Golden had never had reason to seek it out. The small lives of burglars and cut throats were of little interest to him. Mortal years rolled off of him like a tide over a boulder and no matter the skill, no matter the haul, every thief met their end eventually.

Now, however, Smaug knew the name Sori, and was aware that it rhymed with Nori, and therefore the Court that Fundin son of Farin sought was well within his claws.

Nori had, of course, made himself scarce. For three days Smaug waited and for three days, nothing.

On day four, Smaug the Golden again sang the spell that made him small, and leaving his simulacra behind climbed the stairs into Erebor.

Nori was not at home in the tea shop. Smaug made his way carefully to the hidden lair.

Nori watched him from the wall. "you know I could squash you right now." He said.

"But you won't." Smaug said. He sat up on his haunches.

"I'm not taking you to the Court." Nori said.

"Why not?" Smaug asked.

"I ain't no squealer!" Nori said hotly. "And I ain't takin' a dragon in to the court!"

Smaug examined Nori. "You're scared." He said.

"Of COURSE I'm scared!" Nori growled. "You think I ain't scared of you? EVERYONE is scared of you!"

"You're not scared of me." Smaug said, a bit miffed.

Nori wasn't afraid of him. In spite of his teeth, his great size, his power and his magic, Nori did not fear Smaug under the Mountain. Touched in the head? Quite possibly, or maybe it was simply the arrogance of youth. Whatever it was, Nori had little reason to think of Smaug as anything other than a peculiar employer.

Which meant this was another, deeper fear- one dwarves held close to themselves, and one Smaug had come to understand very well indeed.

"You need permission to leave, don't you?" Smaug asked.

"Not permission, per say, I just need- why am I talking about this with you?"

Smaug trotted over and put his tiny front paws on Nori's knee. Nori glared at him and Smaug could see the stress lines on his face. Nori looked at Smaug. He was weighing something in his mind, and Smaug could almost hear abacus beads clicking back and forth.

"You're Smaug under the Mountain." Nori said at last. "You eat thieves. There's a wall with all their names carved on it."

"If you expect me to apologize, I won't." Smaug said. "I guard that gold on an oath, and dragons do not break oaths." He crossed his small paws. "Regardless, I see your point. I am asking you to risk the only dwarves who respect you in this whole mountain." Nori winced but Smaug continued, "I've no interest in their activities. They seem to have taken my point. How old is the last name on the wall, Nori?"

Nori filddled with a loose button on his tunic. "Few years." He said at last.

"Nearly seventy." Smaug said. "So long as everything stays above my treasure rooms, you tiny troublemaker, I don't care."

"You're a shite guardian, then." Nori said sullenly.

"No, I am simply pragmatic." Smaug said. "Still, if it will ease your tiny conscience, I give you my word, on my wings, that no harm will come to your Sori or any other in the Court for the duration of our business."

"Should have been a barrister with that." Nori said.

"Oaths should always be specific." Smaug said. "Remember that. Now, we have things to do."

"I have to tell Uncle Sori something better than 'a dragon wants to meet a hobbit'." Nori said.

"I have something better." Smaug said.

A spark shown in Nori's eyes, chasing away the dullness that had pervaded. Smaug found, to his minor surprise, that he was relieved by its return.

"Tell me," Nori demanded, and Smaug did.

"Will that work?" Nori asked.

"We'll have to find out, won't we?" Smaug asked. Nori grinned at him. "Guess so." He said, and offered his arm. Smaug took the invitation and climbed up one worn woolen sleeve. Nori's braiding was loose, and Smaug wriggled in without much trouble. "You washed your hair." he said.

"Of course I did." Nori said. "I do wash when I get the chance, you know."

So that would be once in a decade?" Smaug responded.

"Oh blow it out your tailhole." Nori said. "Hang on. It's going to be a bit bumpy."

"Somehow," Smaug said as Nori exited his lair and made for another crumbling tunnel, "I am unsurprised."