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The curious case of the hobbit in the night-time.

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Sherlock counted again pointing to each test tube in precision. It had taken him days to get this fundamentally right. He mixed them together and placed the remnants into the bowl. Now, he thought, a small smile edging up the sides of his mouth as he rubbed his hands together. Now to start.

“Sherlock, stop being surly. It’s a lovely day outside and you don’t get enough fresh air as it is.”

He whirled around. “Hardly,” He snapped, before pointing to his awaiting chemistry set in vain, “Can’t you see I’m-”

“-Mycroft will pick you up after he finishes his evening lessons and you two can walk back together. Now wrap up warm,” His mother continued, thrusting a rucksack into his hands before knotting his scarf round his neck. "We don’t want you catching the death of cold.”

He squirmed out of her grasp, pulling the scarf looser, the way he liked it “Mother, it is highly unlikely for me to catch anything of the sort. For a start-“

“-Sherlock, darling, please.”

Sherlock stopped, regarding her closely. The faint twitch on her taught face revealed the unveiling lapse of patience, exemplified by the nervous panic in her eyes; the way her hands were firmly cemented on her hips since the arrival of the morning post, he recalled. It could only mean one thing; his mathematics tutor must be visiting again. No doubt to discuss his, as was often put in class, ‘unorthodox’ behaviour and his ‘reclusive and arrogant’ nature. Ridiculous.

“Fine. But it is not my fault that his homework is so mindnumbingly simple it isn’t worth bothering with. I’ve got more important things to do.” Sherlock curtly answered before slamming the door shut as he left. It was true that Sherlock had more important things to do; however they involved being inside, rather than out.

 

Nissan, Peugeot, Bentley, Rover, Volkswagen he drummed the names off in his head as he walked past the cars. He also worked out the way they drove, the cost, how old they were. Just to test himself. So boring. He stared at people moving in their own peculiar ways; oblivious to the ten year boy that was analysing their every move for every possible sliver of information. Hairdresser, army veteran, policeman, plumber, doctor, secretary. Half of these people don’t even know where their wallets are upon them. It must be so relaxing in their placid, careless, one-track minds. How utterly boring.

 

Sherlock sat, hands burrowed in his pockets as he stared at the floor gloomily. So completely bored. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. The park playground was grey and damp from the misty drizzle; the playslides, once vibrant and garish, had the pale paint chipped, rusted and graffitied over. But the place was deserted and he preferred it that way. He shrugged off his rucksack and snapped off the fasteners. His mother had packed him seed cake and only seed cake. Seed cake indeed! He had never liked seed cake. He chucked it, tinfoil and all, onto the bench in a huff. It didn’t get rid of the anger welling up inside of him and so for good measure, he kicked the bench, kicked the bin, kicked the slide and finally stalked off towards the swings. Hearing a beeping tone, he slumped heavily into the seat and pulled out his mobile. Oh, for God’s sake, Sherlock scoffed to himself. Mycroft had sent him a scolding text about something entirely tedious. He began typing to his brother, telling him to shut up and mind his own business when just as he was about to click ‘Send’, he stopped. There were footprints on the marshy ground ahead.

 

Footprints were fascinating to Sherlock. Everyone had their own different gaits, styles, mannerisms and paces. You could tell a lot about a person’s idiosyncrasies from their footprints. Only if you knew what you were looking for, of course, and Sherlock had been training himself for every detail. But these weren’t just any typical practise ones. Not run-of-the mill to say the least. These were unusual, unique even to Sherlock. They were freshly made, largely printed, paced closely together and were proper footprints, not shoeprints. And what’s more, the seed cake had gone along with them. Sherlock’s eyes narrowed, deep in thought.

 

                                                                                                                                            *~*~*

 

Hobbits are notable in their quietness. Quieter than a mouse pinching treats from a cat food bowl. Johnbo was no exception and he preferred it that way. He was a young hobbit and in the midst of his prime. The Sackville-Bagginses, his cousins, had constantly prattled to him about applying his mind and achieving more but he was content to live his life set in his own humble way. Until that fateful day, a couple of weeks ago, when he had been persuaded onto - he shuddered - an adventure...

 

He sat on a tree stump, swinging his good leg against it and wondering how on middle-earth he was going to get back. He had strayed from the path and that was it. He had tumbled down a hole, hurt his ankle and was separated from the rest of the thirteen dwarves. Surely one of them would be able to find him. After all, he was still in possession of their precious, yet unreadable and frankly bothersome map. He reread all the paperwork he had received and began to regret it again for the countless time that day. He sighed sadly, brushing the last of the cake crumbs off his jacket. At least this place was more like the Shire. Some scraps of food, comforting trees, green grass and nothing trying to kill him. He quite liked it here in this calm little alcove of nature. All he needed now was a nice cup of tea and he would feel almost like a Baggins again.

 

The bushes began to rustle. He glanced over, half-expecting a rabbit or hedgehog to scurry through. But from the shrubbery, there emerged a thick black mass of matted locks attached to a pale, thin human boy. The alert, bright eyes looked up, sharply locking onto Johnbo and surprisingly he couldn’t look or run away, no matter how much he wanted too. How somebody so young could fasten such an intimidating stare was beyond him. The crawling boy stumbled up to his feet as fast as possible, not taking his eyes off him for one second.

Johnbo’s mind flustered with many different thoughts all at once. Did this person mean friend or foe? He put his trust on his instincts on what to do. “Good afternoon” he nodded with an amiable gesture.

The boy said nothing, unruffling his expensive clothes and taking bits of twig out his hair, while walking around the poor hobbit in a circle.“Very interesting” he eventually asserted with a nod.

Johnbo sat, frozen to the spot as he was surveyed like a perched ornament. “Pardon me but what is?” he answered, his voice under an intense strain to sound nonchalant.

He stopped and turned toward him with a spin on the heel. “You, obviously.”

“What?”

“Didn’t you hear me? I-”

“No, I mean yes, I mean to say; why do you think that? Johnbo asked, surprised. At home, nobody had ever thought that about him. Average and normal, yes, why a few may even dare say dull; certainly not interesting. Why, he set the equilibrium for ordinary.

The boy leaned towards him; his expression cold and dark. “What exactly are you doing here, Mr Baggins?”

Johnbo stammered “No-nothing. I’m lost.” He paused guiltily, before he realised something. “Wait ... Wait, how do you know my name?”

“You’re not a very good thief or liar, Mr Baggins. You clearly haven’t learnt the knack of it to make so many amateurish mistakes and be caught red-handed. But don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone, if you give me a smoke.”

Johnbo almost fell off his seat. It took him a few minutes to recover. He stood up to his full height, which he found was substantially shorter than the boy in front of him.

“Okay, okay please explain how you know all of that.”

The boy smirked with a self-satisfied air, his arms crossed in front of him.

“By deducting it. It is written all over you. Smile, Mr Baggins.”

“Smile?”

The boy grunted with impatience. “Correct. Smile.”

Johnbo did so, feeling very foolish, being toyed about with like this.

Sherlock took in a deep breath. “The colour of your teeth tells me that you smoke. There is ash on the ground but if you smoked cigarettes or cigars, there would be butts there too. No, there are none therefore you smoke a pipe. You also have some seeds in between your teeth, and you have crumbs on the palm of your right hand. I mention the fact that it was my cake that you took less than an hour ago. You carelessly left footprints, however lightly you may have treaded. ‘Property of Mr Baggins’ is written on that paper you were reading. It is confirmed by the monogram sewn on your handkerchief that you have wrapped around your foot. You’ve hurt it. A sprain, most likely. Nothing serious.”

Johnbo was at a loss of what to say. “Well blow me down.” was finally what he could muster. “You worked it all out from that?”

The boy shrugged it off, finding a new distraction of examining his own fingernails. “It’s easy really,” he replied, “if you’ve got a mind like mine.”

“I don’t mean to be rude but just who are you?”

“Sherlock Holmes.”

“Sherlock Holmes,” John repeated it slowly, sealing it into his memory. “Glad to make your acquaintance. Johnbo Baggins’ the name. Alright then Sherlock, a deal is a deal but I can’t let you smoke, sorry you’re far too young. But if it’s any consolation, I’ll show you a trick. Here, stop pulling that face.”

As Johnbo took out pipe and prepared it, the kid continued to scowl before slowly conceding to the allure of curiosity. He slumped down beside him and watched as Johnbo began to blow the biggest smoke rings Sherlock had ever seen in his life.

He gave a snigger as a peculiar thought came over him. “You almost look like a dragon doing that.”

Johnbo shuddered, his blood running cold. “No I don’t,” He answered curtly. “Anyway, you shouldn’t want to start smoking. Really bad habit. It stunts your growth, take me as an example.”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “Nonsense.” He replied as they both grinned in unison.

Johnbo stared up to the sky dreamily as the trail of blue smoke rose and entwined in the air. As he fumbled in his pocket for more matches, his fingers brushed over something that had been puzzling him for days. He turned towards the intrigued youth. “Hey, do you know you could help people with that talent of yours? Like me, I have a problem that needs solving. Here, take a look at this, see what you can make of this map. I trust you to be very careful with it.”

Sherlock took it and turned it over in his hands a couple of times, scrutinizing from every angle and tattered corner.

“Very old and valuable. Not yours.” He shot Johnbo an accusing look, before returning to it. “Something here. Ah. Of course! Steganography. It seems to be affected by some forms of light exposure. There are some runes on that bit there up to there. I can decode it for you if you want.”

“Really?” He took a break from his pipe to look over Sherlock’s shoulder “Ah, I think that is in Elvish. Almost impossible to understand unless you’re an Elf.”

Johnbo turned to notice that Sherlock’s perceptive mind was furiously working in overdrive. It showed in the way he frowned deeply, teeth set together; his narrow eyes flickering feverishly back and forth over the document.

“Alright, you better stop that before you pull a muscle. You’ve done very well. Bit of a riddle isn’t it?” Johnbo said kindly, taking it off the stubborn boy and putting it back in his pocket.

“Riddles are stupid. I can do it easily, I just need time.” Sherlock retorted sullenly; he wouldn’t have admitted to it but he had never heard nor seen Elvish before. He changed the subject. “What are these other papers?” he asked, snatching one up with a jolt and reading like a zealous executive surveying the stock market.

“Hey Sherlock! Excuse me-” Johnbo cried, doing his best to grab it back off him.

“You’re excused. Hmm, there’s more to you than what meets the eyes, Mister Baggins. You hate travelling yet you seem to be on a long and dangerous adventure.” Sherlock finally passed the contract over, as he grinned at Johnbo. “Sounds exciting, can I come with you?”

Johnbo blinked a few times, as he tried to comprehend this concept. “Um yes. Best not for you to come. I need to find my friends anyway, it’s their blasted adventure, not mine, you see. I don’t know why they picked me to help actually. Anyone could see I am not suited to burglary.”

Sherlock sighed, as he laid back onto his elbows and closed his eyes. “Mr Baggins, You were contracted because you are quick, nimble and steadfast in mind. You try to do the right thing and don’t like to let anyone down. You think first before fighting or fleeing, otherwise you wouldn’t be here at this moment. Even now, when alone, your first thought was to work out the map for your friends, instead of finding your way home. You must admit that this experience is better for you, than sitting at home alone having breakfast, thinking about what could have been. You are good companion material, Mr Baggins; just don’t steal anything that is likely to be missed and you would be perfect at your job.”

There was a beeping tone. Sherlock rolled his eyes listlessly and glanced at his mobile. It was a message from Mycroft telling him to go meet him now. He sniffed. “Apparently I’ve got to go. Listen, perhaps if you ever finish this adventure and decide you want to see more, we should meet again sometime?”

Oh God no. thought Johnbo. “Yeah, okay.” He answered instead, as they shook hands heartily, grinning like Cheshire cats that had found the cream.

A change had taken place in the child from his initial sour and moody arrival to departing thoroughly pleased with himself. Something was different in Johnbo too, although for the life of him, he could not put his finger on it. But for anyone who could have looked closely at Johnbo at that very moment, may have been able to see a sparkle in his eyes that had not been completely there before.

As the boy crawled back through the undergrowth, Johnbo wondered about all the oddly unusual things that had just taken place. On second thoughts, he might not think that adventures were such a terribly bad thing after all.

“I better get back to it, I suppose.If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” he decided as he stood up tall and dusted himself off, his injured ankle long forgotten. He started to try out this deducting lark for himself. Now, if I was a dwarf, where would I have gotten myself to? He pondered before he set out, looking for thirteen pairs of footprints and listening out for barn owl calls as the misty night stretched out before him.