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An Extra Burgler

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"Cassia! Cassia! Cassia!" A horde of small children come barrelling around a corner and mob the young Hobbit lady.

"Whoa, there," she laughs, holding her arms out for balance as they clump around her skirts, one taking the gesture as invitation and leaping into her arms. "What's all this about?" She asks, wrapping her arms around the lass's legs, sitting her on her hip.

"Tell us the story about the dragon!" The children yell in unison.

Cassia raises an eyebrow. "That's a long story. And haven't you heard it already?"

"But it's the best one!" A little brunette boy near her knee says.

"Well, it is a good one," Cassia concedes. "But it's not just about a dragon."

"We know!"

She leads the children to a patch of sunlight and sits down, gathering them around her. "Oh do you? What's it also about?"

"Dwarves!"

"Trolls!"

"A battle!"

"Elves!"

"Gold!"

"Hobbits!"

"An adventure?"

"Yes, you're all right!" Cassia pushes a blonde lock of hair out of the eyes of the little boy leaning against her knee. "What about you, little one? What do you think it's about?"

He takes his thumb out if his mouth with a pop. "Home?"

Cassia grins. "It's about home, too. But for me, it's a story about love."

All the children cry out with varying levels of disgust and she laughs.

“That’s yucky!” the dark-haired boy from before shouts. “No one wants to hear about kissing!”

“Don’t you worry,” Cassia assures him, “It’s not just about the kissing kind of love."

"Oh really?" he challenges, "what other kinds of love even is there?"

"Oh, lots and lots," she says. "This story is about all of them, I think."

"What are they?" The lass who leapt into her arms asks.

"There's romantic love, of course," Cassia says, and the children cry out again, but she continues on doggedly, "but! But there's also love between friends, and love between family, love for your king, and love for your home. And would you believe this story is about all of them.”

“How does it start?” The blonde boy asks.

“It starts like this: In a hole in the ground, there lived two hobbits…

Chapter Text

In a hole in the ground, there lived two hobbits. Not a nasty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and a wet oozy smell, nor a dry, bare, sandy hole, with nothing in it to sit down on or eat: It was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.

This hole, or as a smial, as it was called, had, a perfectly round door like the top of a barrel, painted green, with a shiny, yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats—the hobbits were fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill —The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it—and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for these hobbits: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (they had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over their garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river. 

These hobbits were very well-to-do hobbits, brother and sister, and their name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is a story of how two Baggins’ had an adventure, and found themselves doing and saying things altogether unexpected. They may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but they gained—well, you will see whether they gained anything in the end.

The mother of these two siblings - of Bilbo and Cassia Baggins, that is- was the famous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took, head of the hobbits who lived across The Water, the small river that ran at the foot of The Hill. It was often said (in other families) that long ago one of the Took ancestors must have taken a fairy wife. That was, of course, absurd, but certainly there was still something not entirely hobbitlike about them, and once in a while members of the Took-clan would go and have adventures. Now Cassia, to the dread of her brother and the other Bagginses, took after her mother, in both looks and temperament. As round and small as any other hobbit, to be sure, with curls so dark they were nearly black, and eyes like bluebells. She had a penchant to get into terrible scrapes, whether by design or accident, no one could be sure. Bilbo was much more the picture of a proper Baggins, stout and sandy haired, solid and comfortable and respectable. Having no adventures and doing nothing unexpected. But people always supposed that deep down, there was something odd in him, from his Tookish side, that only needed a chance to come out. The chance never came until Bilbo was a grown up hobbit of fifty, and Cassia was an almost-grown-up hobbit of thirty-one. And it happened like this: 

 

Bilbo and Cassia Baggins are out in the garden, enjoying the spring air and having the same argument they've had every morning for the last five years: whether and dwarf or an elf would be more interesting to meet. 

“Elves have huge libraries,” Bilbo says, pointing at Cassia with his pipe. She rolls her eyes and pulls a weed up with particular viciousness

“We don't know that dwarves don't. ” She replies, waving it at him, spraying soil all over, “In fact, we know so little about dwarves which makes them interesting!”

“Elves are great healers!”

“Dwarves are master craftsmen!”

They're so engrossed in their discussion (argument) that they don't notice the approach of a stranger until a shadow falls over them.

The both look up. And up. And up. Over tattered gray robes and a long, scraggly gray beard, into an elderly face with pale blue eyes, under a tall, conical blue hat. Bilbo blinks. Cassia stares.

“Good morning,” they say in unison. 

“What do you mean?” The stranger asks, “do you mean to wish me a good morning or do you mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not? Or perhaps you mean to say that you feel good on this particular morning. Or are you simply stating that this is a morning to be good on?”

“All of them at once I suppose” Bilbo says. Cassia nods in agreement, still dumbstruck. Bilbo continues, as he is wont to do, “And a very fine morning for a pipe of tobacco out of doors, into the bargain. If you don't have a pipe about you, sit down and have a fill of mine! There’s no hurry, we have all the day before us!” He sits down on a seat by his door (for he had been standing near Cassia, who is still crouched in the daffodil beds) crosses his legs, and blows out a beautiful grey ring of smoke that sails up into the air without breaking and floats away over The Hill. “Very pretty!” says the stranger. “But I have no time to blow smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”

Cassia’s face lights up with a brilliant smile and she scrambles to her feet, showering dirt and weeds all over the path. “An adventure ?!” she cries.

“I should think so—in these parts!” Says Bilbo at nearly the exact same time, “We are plain, quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them,” (This last bit is a jibe directed at his sister) Bilbo sticks one thumb behind his suspenders, and blows out another even bigger smoke-ring. Then he takes out his morning letters, and begins to read, pretending to take no more notice of the old man, and probably hoping his sister would take the hint. 

“That’s not true!” Cassia shoots back, “ I want an adventure!”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Bilbo says. “We don’t want any adventures here, thank you. Good Morning!”

“To think,” the stranger says, “that I would live to be 'good morninged’ by Belladonna Took's children as if I were selling buttons at the door.”

“Are you?” Cassia asks. “Selling buttons, I mean.”

The stranger blinks. “No.”

“I beg your pardon?” Bilbo splutters.

“You've changed, Bilbo Baggins, and not entirely for the better.”

“I'm sorry, do I know you?”

“Well, you know my name,” The stranger says, “Though you don't remember I belong to it. Cassia, I suppose, is just a bit too young. I'm Gandalf!”

Silence.

“And Gandalf means… me…”

Bilbo shifts, then realization dawns on his face. “G…. Gandalf! The Wandering Wizard. Who made such wonderful fireworks! Old Took used to have them on Midsummer's Eve.” He laughs. Then frowns. “I had no idea you were still in business.”

Gandalf looks put upon. “And where else should I be?”

Bilbo does not answer.

“Well,” Cassia says, “dead, I suppose. Or something. You do look very old, mister.”

Gandalf's lips twitch. Bilbo kicks his sister in the shin. “Ouch!”

“Well,” Gandalf says, his eyes twinkling, “I'm pleased to find you remember something about me, Bilbo Baggins. Even if it's only my fireworks.” He nods and points at Bilbo. “It'll be very good for you. And most amusing for me.” He glances at Cassia, his lips twitching again. “ Most amusing indeed. I'll call the others.”

Bilbo splutters. “No. No!” 

Cassia grins. “Yes!’

“No.” Bilbo says, dragging her towards the door. “We do not want any adventures here, thank you.”

“We do!”

“No, we don't! Not today. Not ever. No. I suggest you try over the hill or across the water. Good morning.”

With that, the older hobbit bundles the lass into Bag End and slams shut the green door.

Cassia stomps her foot. “No fair! I want to adventure!”

Bilbo blocks her way to the door. “No, no you don't!”

“Yes I do! Don't tell me what I do and don't want!”

Bilbo locks the door. “I'm telling you no!”

“You aren't my parent!”

“Maybe so! But I'm in charge of you until you come of age! So if in two years you want to go gallivanting off, be my guest! But not today and not while I have a say! ”

“You're being a real arsemunch, Bilbo Baggins!” Cassia shrieks.

“And you're being stupidly reckless, Cassia Baggins! Adventures are dangerous!”

Cassia opens her mouth again, but he slams his hand over it and points to the door, from which is coming a faint scratching noise. Bilbo drags her over and peers out the window.

He's met by a pale, glaring blue eye, and jumps back, knocking Cassia over.

“Hey!” She says.

“Hush!” Bilbo hisses. He hurries to the kitchen window and watches as the wizard walks off. “How terrible,” he sighs.

“I thought he was interesting!” Cassia says. “is he really a wizard?”

Bilbo sighs. “I don't know, Cassia. He's very odd and a little frightening, that's for sure.”

“I liked him.”

“Of course you did.”

Chapter Text

That very night, as Cassia and Bilbo sit down for supper, there's a knock at the door.

“Go get the door,” Bilbo says. 

“You do it!” Cassia shoots back, shoving food in her mouth. “I'm eating.”

“It's my house.” 

“Yeah, so you should do it.”

“Rock Paper Scissors, then,” Bilbo says, holding out his fist. Cassia nods. 

“Alright, on shoot?”

“Yes. Ready?”

Cassia chooses rock. Bilbo chooses paper, grinning at her. “Gotcha.”

“Oh, come on. Best out of three?”

“Uh, no. I won.”

Cassia squints at her brother, and slowly wipes her mouth. “You always win.”

“Well, I am the older brother.”

She stomps out to the foyer, yanks the door open, and finds herself staring at a broad chest. She looks up into a fearsome, scarred face with a bushy beard. A dwarf. A dwarf is standing on her doorstep! She blinks, a little too shocked to speak.

“Dwalin.” The Dwarf says, and bows. “At your service.”

“Cassia Baggins,” Cassia replies with a curtsey, good manners taking over. “At yours.”

The dwarf moves to step inside, but Cassia blocks him. “Do we know each other?”

“No.”

“Why are you here?”

“Gandalf said to meet here.”

“The wizard sent you?”

“Aye… may I come in?”

Cassia steps back, never one to be shocked by the unexpected. “Certainly. Please wipe your boots, sir. You can hang your coat by the door. I'll tell my brother you've arrived. Are you hungry?”

“The wizard said there'd be food. And lots of it.”

Cassia bustles down the hall. “Bilbo! There's a dwarf here!”

Bilbo leaps out of his chair. “What?!”

Cassia points to the imposing figure towering near her left shoulder. “See?”

“Do we know each other?” Bilbo asks.

Mister Dwalin shakes his head, and bows. “Dwalin. At your service.”

“Bilbo Baggins… at yours.”

Cassia directs Dwalin to the spare chair and serves him up the rest of the fish and tucks in herself. 

Bilbo grabs her and drags her down the hall. “Please excuse us for a moment,” he says, waving. Dwalin nods absently.

“What were you thinking?!” Bilbo hisses, once they're out of earshot, “letting some random dwarf into the house.”

“But he's not random. He said the wizard sent him. Besides, he seems nice.”

Biblo pulls at his curls. “You can't let strangers into the house on account of them saying they were sent by a wizard we barely know! That’s dangerous! And nice?! Cassia, he could kill you with his pinkie finger.”

“Perhaps, but he hasn't. ” She frowns. “How do you think he got the scar on his face?”

“If you ask him, I will kill you,” Bilbo says. The bell rings and Cassia grins. 

“Your turn!” She turns on her heels with a swish of her patchwork robe and heads back towards the kitchen. “I am going to ask Mister Dwalin how he got his scar.”

Bilbo splutters, torn between stopping his sister and getting the door, before finally settling on the latter. He opens it to reveal a stout, elderly dwarf, white of hair and beard.

“Balin,” says the dwarf, spreading his arms, “at your service.” He bows.

Bilbo responds in a bit of a daze. “Good evening.”

“Yes,” Balin says, “yes, it is!” He steps in. “Though I think it might rain later. Am I late?”

“Late for what?”

“The party.” Balin turns to spy Dwalin in the next room, regaling Cassia with some morbid tale and shoveling cookies in his mouth. He laughs. “Evening, brother.”

Dwalin laughs, too. “By my beard! You're shorter and wider than when we last met!”

“Wider,” Balin says, “but not shorter. Sharp enough for both of us.” He winks.

The two laugh, grab each other by the arms, and slam their foreheads together in greeting. Cassia lets out a delighted laugh. This is just fantastic.

Balin turns to her, then, and bows. “Balin, lassie, at your service.”

Cassia jumps to her feet and curtseys. “Cassia Baggins! At yours!”

“Now, lassie,” Balin says, “there shall be lots of dwarves coming and it doesn't seem like you have anything prepared. My brother and I would be delighted to help.”

“How many dwarves?”

“Thirteen, including my brother and me.”

“That certainly is a lot.” Cassia taps her chin thoughtfully. “Yes, we best get to work. I can't have anyone thinking Bag End is inhospitable. What would Mama say if she were here.” She snags a cookie and gnaws on it thoughtfully. “Right. The pantry is this way.”

Vaguely, Cassia can hear her brother rambling on in the background as she points out food to the brothers. 

“What's this?”

“Cheese.”

“It's stinky. Has it gone bad?”

“It's supposed to be like that,” Cassia says, “it's Lindburger. Don't finger it up.”

“I had to speak my mind. I'm sorry.”

The brothers and Cassia turn to Bilbo. “Apology accepted,” Balin says. Cassia smiles and nods. Then returns to her task.

“What shall your friends like to drink? We have tea and we have a few barrels of ale. Bilbo, do we have milk?”

“No, you drank it all this morning.”

“Hm. Pity.” 

The bell rings again. Cassia doesn't hear, as she has herself halfway on a shelf, handing Balin several loaves of bread. “I made these yesterday. It's wheat and rye… we might have sweet rolls. If I didn't eat them. Could you check that top shelf please, Mister Dwalin?”

Bilbo sighs and goes to get the door. 

 

Cassia hears more voices and pokes her head out of the pantry to see two more dwarves barge in, seeming younger than Balin and Dwalin, one dark-haired and one blonde, brothers as well, she assumes, despite their different coloring, there’s some resemblance between them, maybe the shape of their grins or the way they walk. She can’t place it. 

“Make sure to wipe your boots,” she instructs, “I just swept.”

The two nod and comply, leaving their weapons by the door at her instruction as well. "I’m Kili," says the dark haired dwarf, bobbing a bow and giving her a bright, friendly grin and pointing to his companion. “That’s my brother.”

His brother doesn't tear his gaze from Cassia, stepping forward and taking her hand, bowing over it.

"Fili," he says, pressing a whiskery kiss to the back of it and giving her a slow wink. "And I am entirely at your service, miss."

Cassia can feel her face reddening. "Ah, um… I'm Cassia Baggins. At yours." Why on earth is she blushing? Part of it might be the fact that she’s being greeted by a handsome dwarf around her age and she’s in her nightgown. Just a part of it, though.

Fili gives her another long look up and down. “Do you always greet visitors in your nightie?” he asks, cocking one eyebrow. Cassia has no choice but to flirt back. Really. 

She flutters her eyelashes at him in a way that she knows makes every self respecting lad stop in his tracks. “Only the handsome ones, sir.”

Fili lets out a laugh, finally letting go of her hand. “You better go change, then, no one else is gonna come through that door who’s as handsome as me.”

Cassia giggles. 

“Fili, Kili,” Dwalin says, appearing round the corner, “come give us a hand.”

“Mr. Dwalin.” Kili grins.

Fili lets go of Cassia's hand, giving her one last smile.

“Let's move this,” Balin says, gesturing to the dining table. It’s one of those huge old ones, built right here in the smial. “We'll never get everyone in.”

“Everyone?!” Bilbo exclaims, “how many more are coming?!”

Cassia looks at him. “Mister Balin said thirteen in total.” 

The doorbell rings and Bilbo marches off, muttering.

“Please excuse him,” Cassia says, “he gets nervous. Also we had no warning so he's under a lot of stress. He's really quite nice when you get to know him.”

There’s a commotion in the foyer, and the next thing she knows, Bag End is completely filled with dwarves and one wizard, milling around, grabbing food from the pantry with little more than a how do you do, which would really irk her if she wasn't so utterly fascinated. They all seem to be quite nice people, in their own odd, rough ways, and quite respectful of her, giving her little bows whenever she's nearby. But it’s very tight in the smial, now, and someone bumps her and she almost falls, but she's caught by a pair of strong arms. "Watch where you're going, Nori," Fili says angrily, setting her upright. "You all right, lass? Sorry about them, they can get pretty rowdy."

"I'm fine," she says.

"You're enjoying yourself, aren't you?"

She nods, laughing. "I've always wanted to meet dwarves. And today I've met twelve."

"Really? Why would you want to meet a dwarf?"

"Because you're different. And interesting. Sorry. That's a little odd, isn't it?"

Fili shrugs. "Little bit. Everyone's a bit odd, though, aren't they?"

Cassia laughs and Fili moves her out of the way of a dwarf coming through with a bowl of tomatoes. Cassia frowns, turning around in his hold. "Oh, Bilbo won't like that. Those're our prizewinners."

True to her prediction, Bilbo appears seemingly out of nowhere to wrest the tomatoes out of the dwarf's hand. Fili snorts, removing his hands from her waist. 

"Fili!" His brother shouts. "Come help me with this!"

The blonde sighs. "I better attend to that, before he gets frantic. If you'll excuse me."

Cassia giggles. "I better check on my brother, too."

She trots off to check on Bilbo, who seems to be hyperventilating in the parlor. 

"Are you okay?" She asks, touching his arm. He glares at her.

"Do I look okay?" 

"You like parties, though!"

"I like to know when visitors are coming, and I like them to let me know beforehand!"

"Oh, relax. It's not so bad."

"You're just liking that the blonde one is flirting with you."

Cassia glares, feeling her cheeks reddening. "His name is Fili, and he's really quite nice."

Bilbo glares at her. "I can't believe you."

"Oh, come off it, it's just flirting." She grabs his arm and drags him out into the dining room. "Look, they're having fun. Isn't that nice?"

"No." Bilbo snaps, stomping off to check his pantry. He takes one look and bypasses all the stages of grief right to anger. He storms over to Gandalf and starts begging for an explanation. 

“And what's worse,” Bilbo continues, “the blond one has taken a liking to my sister!”

“Has he?” Gandalf asks, sounding quite surprised. He turns to eye… Fili, was it? as the dwarf says something and winks at Cassia, very obviously flirting, but not doing a great job. Cassia giggles ( giggles!!!! ) evidently flirting right back.

“Hm,” the wizard says, “I suppose he has. I wouldn't worry. He's a good lad.”

“I don't understand what they're doing in my house!” Bilbo hisses.

“Excuse me,” says a dwarf, walking up. “I don't mean to interrupt, but what should I do with my plate?”

Cassia takes it from him. “Give it here. I'll wash it.”

“No need for that, lass,” Fili says, plucking it out of her hands. “We'll take care of it, you just sit tight.” He winks and tosses the plate towards his brother. “Kili! Catch!”

Cassia squeaks with surprise. “Be careful! Mama loved those plates!”

“Ah, don't worry,” Fili says, catching another plate thrown at him. “We won't break them.” He bounces a bowl from elbow to elbow, peeking at Cassia (quite obviously showing off) and puffs up a bit when she looks appropriately impressed. Bilbo panics, though, as a few dwarves still seated begin pounding their fists and clinking cutlery together.

“Can you not do that?” He asks, “you’ll blunt them.”

“Oh, ya hear that lads?” Says one of the dwarves, “he says we'll blunt the knives!” And with that, they're all singing, tossing dishes around Bag End with frightening accuracy.

Chip the glasses and crack the plates! 

Blunt the knives and bend the forks! 

That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates– 

Smash the bottles and burn the corks! 

 

Cut the cloth and tread on the fat! 

Pour the milk on the pantry floor! 

Leave the bones on the bedroom mat! 

Splash the wine on every door! 

 

Fili grabs Cassia’s hand at this point in the song and begins to twirl her around in a fast jig in time with the song. She laughs, clinging to his arms. These dwarves are great fun.

 

Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl; 

Pound them up with a thumping pole;

 And when you’ve finished, if any are whole,

 Send them down the hall to roll! 

 

That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates!

 So, carefully! carefully with the plates! 

 

Of course, they did none of these things, even as Bilbo is spinning round and round in the kitchen, trying to see what they are doing. Fili ends his jig by dipping Cassia dramatically. They’re interrupted by a knock at the door and everyone freezes.

“He’s here,” Gandalf says somewhat ominously.

Fili pulls Cassia back upright, setting her on her feet. “Who’s here?” she asks. 

“Our uncle,” he replies. 

A very important dwarf walks in just then, and Fili and his brother greet him warmly. Cassia drops a curtsey, because that just feels polite.

“Bilbo, Cassia,” Gandalf says, “allow me to introduce the leader of our Company, Thorin Oakenshield.”

Thorin peers closely at the two hobbits. “So,” he says, “these are our burglars.” He glances at Gandalf. “You failed to mention one of them was a lass.”

Cassia frowns. Bilbo raises an eyebrow. “My sister won’t be going anyw-”

“I assure you,” Gandalf says, like Bilbo hasn’t even opened his mouth, “there are none more suited for the job than these two.”

Thorin seems to take the wizards word for it, circling Bilbo and his sister. “Tell me, have you done much fighting? Sword or axe, what's your weapon of choice?”

"Does a sling count as a weapon?" Cassia asks him.

“I have some skill at conkers,” Bilbo says sarcastically, “but I fail to see how that's relevant.”

Thorin doesn't seem to get the joke, just nods with a resigned look. “I thought as much. He looks more to be a grocer than a burglar.”

The dwarves laugh.

“That's a very respected job, you know,” Cassia says before the laughter dies down. Thorin shoots her a surprised look. “I know some very fierce grocers.” 

Kili snorts at that and everyone files back into the dining room. Bilbo and Cassia still have no idea what is going on and lurk near the doorway listening.

“They say this quest is ours, and ours alone,” Thorin says.

“You're going on a quest?” Bilbo asks. Everyone looks at him.

“Are you?” Cassia queries.

“Bilbo, my dear fellow,” Gandalf says, breaking the awkward silence, “let us have a little more light.” Bilbo fetches a lamp. “Far to the East,” the wizard begins, unfolding something from his pocket, “over ranges and rivers, beyond woodlands and wastelands, lies a single solitary peak.” Gandalf lays down a map.

“The Lonely Mountain,” Bilbo reads.

“Erebor,” Cassia says. “One of the seven dwarven kingdoms.”

The dwarves stare at her. “How'd you know that?” Thorin asks. Cassia blushes a little at the attention.

“Oh… I read a lot. I've read some dwarven fairy tales. And histories. Nothing… nothing detailed. Just stories.”

“Hm.” 

“Oin has read the portents,” Gloin speaks up, “and the portents say it is time!”

“Ravens have been seen flying back to the mountain,” his brother says, “as it was foretold: when the birds of yore return to Erebor, the reign of the beast will end.”

“Uh,” Bilbo speaks up, “what beast?”

“Well, that would be reference to Smaug the Terrible,” Bofur says, “Chiefest and Greatest Calamity of our age.”

“So there really is a dragon?” Cassia mutters as Bofur continues his grisly description.

“Yes,” Bilbo interrupts, “I know what a dragon is.”

“The task itself would be hard enough with an army behind us,” Balin says, “and we number just thirteen. And not thirteen of the best. Or brightest.”

That causes an uproar.

“We may be few in number,” Fili says, “but we're fighters. All of us! To the last dwarf!”

“And you forget we have a wizard in our company!” Kili adds, “Gandalf will have killed hundreds of dragons in his time.”

Gandalf stutters as the others exclaim and and turn to look at him. The dwarves immediately devolve into a shouting match that has Cassia covering her ears and staring with wide eyes. 

“NO MORE!!!” Thorin roars, rising to his feet. His people sit down immediately. “If we have read these signs, do you not think others have read them as well? The dragon Smaug has not been seen for 60 years, and people have begun to wonder. Perhaps the vast wealth of our people now lies unprotected. Do we sit back while others claim what is rightfully ours? Or do we seize this chance to take back Erebor?!”

The dwarves cheer and pound on the table.

“You forget,” Balin says, “the front gate is sealed. There is no way into the Mountain.”

“That, my dear Balin,” Gandalf says, “is not entirely true.” He produces a key out of seemingly nowhere.

“How came you by this?” Thorin asks.

“It was given to me by your father, for safekeeping.” Gandalf hands it to the dwarf. “It is yours now.” He points the map. “The runes here speak of a secret door into the lower halls. I cannot read them, but there are others in Middle-Earth who can. The task I have in mind will require a great deal of stealth and no small amount of courage. But if you're careful, and quiet, I believe it can be done.”

“That's why you need a burglar,” Cassia says.

“An expert, I suppose,” Bilbo adds.

“And are you?”

“Am I what?” Bilbo asks

Cassia strokes her chin, “I've nicked a few vegetables in my time.”

Fili snorts at that and she grins at him.

“Neither of us are burglars!” Bilbo says, sounding offended. “I've never stolen a thing in my life!”

“I'm afraid I'll have to agree with Mister Baggins,” Balin sighs.

“Aye,” Dwalin says, “the wild is no place for gentle folk who can neither fight nor fend for themselves.”

The discussion devolves into shouting once more.

“IF I SAY CASSIA AND BILBO BAGGINS ARE BURGLARS THEN BURGLARS THEY ARE!” Gandalf thunders. “Hobbits are remarkably light on their feet, and can go nigh unseen if they so choose to. They're clever folk, with hidden depth. You must trust me on this.”

“Give them the contracts,” Thorin says after a while.

Balin does so, saying things about payment and funeral arrangements. Cassia's not listening already reading and halfway down the page.

Incineration ?!” Bilbo says.

“Oh, aye,” Bofur says, “He'll melt the flesh off your bones within a blink of an eye.”

“Oh,” Bilbo whimpers.

Cassia pats his shoulder soothingly. “It would be a quick way to go,” she says.

Bilbo glares.

“Think furnace, with wings.” Bofur says. “Flash of light, then poof! you're nothing more than a pile of ash.”

“Ah,” Bilbo murmurs. “Nope!” Then he faints, knocking Cassia to the floor.

“Oh no!” She cries, shoving him off her, “Bilbo?”

“Thank you, Bofur,” Gandalf says resignedly.

“I think we should help them,” Cassia says. She’s set a cup of fresh tea at Bilbo’s elbow and is sipping her own. Her brother gives her an incredulous look.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“You heard me,” she says, taking another sip.

“Are you insane?”

“Don’t be rude!” Cassia gasps. “Besides, we should help people if we can.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“It’s not ridiculous! I really want to help them! Mama would, if she were here!”

“Well, it’s a good thing she’s not.”

“Bilbo!”

“What?”

“What’s wrong with you?” Cassia says, leaning back. “Why are you acting like this?”

“I don’t want to go on any adventures, I don’t want you to go in any adventures or flirt with any dwarves and I don’t want those dwarves in my house!”

Cassia scoffs in disgust. “It wasn’t flirting and if you have your way, I’ll probably never see him again, so it doesn’t matter anyway.”

“And if you had your way, you’d go gallivanting off to places unknown and probably end up marrying that dwarf and have ten children.”

She stomps her foot. “What’s wrong with you? You’re being mean! You’re stuck-up and fussy and just as bad as the rest of the Baggins clan! What happened to you?”

Bilbo glares at her. “What happened? What happened is Mama died and I had to give up all my dreams and care for a little sister I never wanted!”  

Cassia gasps and jumps up. “Well, sor-ry! I didn’t ask to be born and I didn’t ask for Mama to die! And I didn’t ask for Allen to dump me and I didn't ask to be dumped with you!" She throws her tea at her brother and storms out of the room, tears pricking behind her eyes.

"Cassia, wait!" Bilbo says, jumping up. "Wait, I didn't… I didn't mean that…"

In the hall, she stumbles across Thorin and Balin. "It appears we have lost our burglars,” Balin is saying, and she stops to listen. It's not very polite, but it's her house, so there. 

“It’s probably for the best," the white haired dwarf continues. "The odds were always against us.”

“I should have known better than to come all this way,” Thorin sighs, “We should have left immediately. It seems that generations of peace have made these people soft and defenseless. They would have no place amongst us. They care for nothing but their home and their pleasures. They know nothing of the hardship of the world.” 

“With all due respect,” Cassia blurts, stepping around the corner, her hands wrung in fists, tears in her eyes, “That’s not entirely true.”

The two dwarves look at her, a little surprised. “Were you eavesdropping?” Thorin rumbles. 

“You weren’t exactly being quiet,” she shoots back, stomping one foot in almost childish indignation. “It's my house. And anyway, you cannot go around making assumptions of people you do not know. My brother and I do know hardship. Maybe we don’t look it, but we have felt loss, too.” She takes a deep breath. “That’s all I wanted to say.” And then she’s rushing down the hall and out the door, feeling tears prick at the back of her eyes. In her abandon, she doesn’t look where she’s going and smacks dead into someone’s back, falling back on her bottom. That seems to just pile on a day that has been steadily getting worse and worse, and she bursts into tears. “I’m sorry,” she sniffles, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to walk into you.”

The person she ran into crouches down in front of her. It's Fili, peering at her with concern in his blue eyes, and that just piles embarrassment onto the storm of emotions she's already feeling. She covers her eyes and ducks her head between her knees. 

“Hey, are you alright?” He asks, putting a hand on her shoulder. Cassia shrugs. No, she's not all right. 

"I'm sorry," she sobs. "I'm a mess. I just had a fight with my brother." Oh, she hopes he won’t tease her for crying. He already seems like a joker. She hopes he isn’t a cruel one.

"Ah," Fili says, not teasing at all. "Well, there's no use sitting in the dirt." He slides his hand down her arm and takes her hand. "Come on, up you get." 

Cassia sniffles and lets him help her up, looking up into his face. He seems genuinely concerned about her. "Thank you, Mister Fili."

He rubs the back of his head awkwardly, an oddly sweet image to reconcile with the lad who kissed her hand and winked at her not an hour ago. "Just Fili is fine, miss. I reckon we're around the same age, anyway."

“You can call me Cassia, then,” She says, with a wobbly smile. She thinks she could be friends with this dwarf.

He returns the smile, giving her hand a last, comforting squeeze, and dropping it. "Well, Cassia, I'd offer you a handkerchief, but, well, I haven't got one."

Cassia manages a rather damp laugh, wiping away the last of her tears with the heels of her hands.“That's okay.” She pulls up her apron and dabs at her eyes. "What are you doing out here?” He holds up a very intricately carved pipe.

“I was going to have a smoke. Needed some time away from everyone, you know?”

She nods. “I know.” She steps around him and sits down on the bench beside the door, patting the space next to her.

“I just needed some air. I hope you don't mind if I'm here.”

Fili sits down beside her, taking a pouch of pipeweed out of his pocket and preparing his pipe. “Not at all,” he says around the stem of it. "It's your garden." He lights it and leans back. 

There's silence for a minute, Fili puffs on his pipe and Cassia fiddles with her apron.

He blows a few smoke rings and she glances at him, studying his profile in the light from the kitchen window, evaluating this new side of him: sensitive and kind and a little quiet. He turns just then and meets her eyes.

“You want to come with us,” he says without much preamble. She nods. “Why?”

“I don't have any parents,” Cassia says, “so I know what it's like to not feel like you belong anywhere.”

“You have your brother, though, right?” He winces. “And, you just mentioned you got in a fight with him. Sorry.”

“Well,” she says. “Everyone fights with their siblings. And yes. He takes care of me. After Mama and Papa died, he could have shipped me off to the Brandybuck Hall or something. Or given me to a cousin who knew what they were doing. But he didn't, because family sticks together, see. We don't always get along but I love him, you know?”

“I know.” 

She kicks her legs for a moment. “And I guess… I guess my motivation isn't completely unselfish.”

He looks at her, raising an eyebrow.

“I want to see the world,” she says. “And that's a rather unhobbitlike aspiration. But I've never left the Shire. Not even to go to Bree or anywhere. And I love it. It's home. But someday I do want to settle down and get married and have children. And I don't want to leave my kids to go on an adventure, so it's best I do it now.”

“The world's nothing like the Shire,” Fili says softly.

“I know,” she replies. “That's why I want to see it.”

“Hm.”

They fall back into silence and it’s soft and comfortable. 

“You know,” Fili says, taking his pipe out of his mouth. “I have to admit, I’ve never even seen the Lonely Mountain.”

“You haven’t?” She asks, frowning, “Then why are you going on this quest?”

“I guess I wanted an adventure, too.”

She grins at him. “I guess we have that in common.”

“I guess we do.”

Silence falls again, and Cassia leans over and plucks a daffodil. It’s April, and almost the whole bed of them are standing tall and bright. “Daffodils are my favorite flowers,” She says, holding it to her nose, “you know why?”

Fili looks down at her, raising an eyebrow. “I must admit I don’t know much about plants. They’re pretty enough, I think.”

She grins at him. “Yes, they’re gorgeous. But that’s not why I like them.”

“Why do you like them?”

“I like them because they’re one of the few flowers that can bloom through snow. They’re the first sign of spring, and they mean hope.”

“Flowers have meanings?” Fili asks.

“Yes. You didn’t know that?”

“I knew gemstones had meanings, but not flowers,” He reaches over and touches one petal. “It’s odd to me that something so… temporary has a meaning.”

Cassia laughs. “Yes. Hope and good fortune. Luck. A gift of them is supposed to ensure happiness. But only in a bunch, see, if you only give one, its bad luck.”

“Really?”

“Really. It… makes me think of you all. Not that I really know you… just… I bet if you all stick together you’ll succeed.” She grins at him. “I think you have a chance.”

“A chance, huh?”

“I don’t think your uncle would take you and your brother along if there wasn’t one. He loves you two. I noticed it when he first arrived, the way he looks at you two.”

Fili smiles. “He does.” She takes his hand and turns it over, placing the bloom in his palm.  

“Keep this. I bet it’ll bring you luck.”

“Just one?” he asks. “I thought that was bad luck.”

“So it is.” Cassia reaches down and picks a second and third bloom, handing those to him, too. “There we go. No bad luck for you. It wouldn’t do. I’d like to see you again, after all this is over.”

His smile widens and Cassia notices that he has a dimple in his left cheek. “I think I’d like that, too.”

“Fili!” Kili pokes his head out the door just them, startling both of them. “Thorin’s been looking for you.”

Fili puts out his pipe and stands, offering a hand to Cassia to help her up. She takes it gratefully. “Thorin’s always looking for me, Kili,” He says. His brother laughs.

“Aye, and I doubt neither he nor Master Baggins would be all too thrilled about you two out here alone. One might think you’d be trying something improper.”

Fili blushes and thumps Kili on the head. “‘Ey, shut it.”

Cassia laughs, and clasps her hand to her chest in mock offense. “For shame, Master Dwarf, I am a lady .”

Kili gives her a lopsided grin. “And I find that hard to believe, miss.”

“Well,” She says, “You’d be right.” The three of them wander inside to find their elders crowded around the fire in the den. Cassia bids goodnight to Fili and Kili and heads down the hall to bed as the dwarves begin singing. It’s a soft, deep song, about long-forgotten gold and a lost home, and as she passes her brother in the kitchen, she spies something almost Tookish awaken in his blue eyes and a little bit of the old Bilbo come over him, the Bilbo who didn’t give two licks about silver spoons and broken plates, and she grins.