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An Unexpected Party

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That very night, as Cassia and Bilbo sit down for dinner, 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.”

“Cassia, go get the door!”

Cassia squints at her cousin, and slowly wipes her mouth.

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.

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

“Cassia Baggins,” Cassia replies with a curtsey. “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. “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 falls 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! 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 blue skirt 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.

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 Aunty Bella 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.

 

“Okay,” Fili tells his brother, “be nice.”

“You be nice!” Kili responds, stepping on his toes. Fili draws his hand back to punch him in retaliation when they hear the latch being drawn and quickly straighten out.

The green door opens to reveal a small, large footed creature with brown curls, clad in a patchwork robe.

“Fili,” says the blonde dwarf.

“And Kili,” says his companion.

“At your service,” they finish together, bowing in unison.

“You must be Mister Boggins!” Kili says with a grin.

“Nope!” the hobbit says, trying to shut the door, “You can't come in, you've come to the wrong house.”

The dwarf catches the door. “Has it been cancelled?”

“No one told us,” his brother adds.

“Can…. Cancelled? No, nothing's been cancelled.”

“Bilbo,” says a sweet voice, “let them in!”

Behind Mister Boggins (Baggins?), a lass strolls into the foyer, a basket of bread under one arm. She's got the same nose as the other hobbit, and dark blue eyes, and a bright smile, and Fili decides he's never seen anyone so beautiful.

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

The brothers nod and comply, leaving their weapons by the door at her instruction as well. “I'm Cassia Baggins,” she says, watching to make sure they do what she's said, “Bilbo's little sister.”

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

“Mr. Dwalin.” Kili grins.

“Let's move this,” Balin says, gesturing to a heavy-looking wooden table. “We'll never get everyone in.”

“Everyone?!” Mr. Baggins (Boggins?) exclaims, “how many more are coming?!”

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

The doorbell rings and Mr. Boggins (that's right, right?) 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.”

The next thing Cassia 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.

 

“He has an axe in his head,” Cassia says, pointing. Bilbo slaps at her hand.

“That's rude.”

“Well, they're in our house, I can point all I want. Is he okay?” She asks the dwarf passing by. She thinks it's Bofur, but she can't quite figure out who's who just yet.

“Who? Bifur? He's dandy. Just a little scrambled, you know.”

“Why didn't you take it out when he first got… you know.” Cassia mimes swinging an axe. “Axed in the head.”

“Too dangerous. What kind of bread is this?”

“That's rye. Try it with jam.”

 

Bilbo takes a look at his pantry and bypasses all the stages of grief right to anger.

“They seem to be having fun,” Cassia grins, quite proud of her hosting. “I declare this party a success.”

Bilbo ignores her, rambling to Gandalf about the state of things.

“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 he 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 frisbees 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.

Blunt the knives

Bend the forks

Smash the bottles

And burn the corks

Chip the glasses

And crack the plates

That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!

 

“How did you do that?” Cassia gushes, “I've never seen anyone wash dishes so fast!”

“It's our dwarven skill,” Fili teases as she inspects a plate for streaks.

“Well, it's truly magical.” She smiles at him, her eyes sparkling. “Could you help me carry these to the cabinet?”

Fili immediately fills his arms with dishes. “Aye. Kili, lend a hand!”

The younger brother grumbles but complies.

 

Gloin chews on his pipestem and watches the blonde princeling stare at Cassia. “Huh,” he says, like something just then occurred to him. His brother turns his ear trumpet towards him.

“What was that, brother?” Oin shouts.

Gloin pats his shoulder. “Nothing, brother.”

 

They're interrupted by a knock on the door that has everyone settling down real fast. “He is here,” Gandalf says, rather ominously.

“Who’s here?” Cassia asks Fili.

“Our uncle,” he replies.

A very important dwarf walks in just then, and the brothers 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.

“I assure you,” Gandalf says, “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?”

“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.”

 

“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?”

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 not 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 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?”

Gandalf sighs. "Very helpful, Bofur."

Chapter Text

“I'll be fine,” Bilbo says, accepting the tea that Cassia hands him. “I just need to sit quietly for a moment.”

“You've been sitting quietly for far too long!” Gandalf says.

“I can't go running off into the blue,” Bilbo replies, “I am a Baggins of Bag End.”

“But we're also Tooks!” Cassia says, “and they need our help!”

“It's none of our business!”

“But that's not the point! If we only bothered about what is our business, it wouldn't be right ! We should help people, if we can.”

“You're getting too invested in this!”

“Well… well… you're a butthead!”

“Excuse me?!”

“You heard me!” Cassia throws a pillow at Bilbo and stomps off, through the dwarves milling around the smial, throws open the door and storms out, smacking dead into someone's chest. She stumbles back, but is caught by the person's arms around her waist.

“Whoa, easy there, lass.”

Cassia looks up. “Oh no. I'm sorry, Mister Fili.”

He let's go of her gently, one hand still on her waist. “Just Fili is fine, miss. I don't think I'm much older than you.”

“And you can call me Cassia.” She sniffles again.

“Are you… okay?”

“Oh. Yes. I've just had a disagreement with my brother. It's nothing.”

“I'd offer you a handkerchief,” Fili says, “but… uh… I don't have one.”

Cassia laughs wetly. “That's okay.” She pulls up her apron and dabs at her eyes. “I’m sorry, I'm a bit  of a mess. 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, patting the space beside 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. 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. 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?”

“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. Briefly, Cassia considers resting her head against his shoulder but quickly squashes it.

“It's getting late,” she says finally, standing. “I should head to bed. Are you guys staying in Bag End?”

“You’ll have to ask Thorin,” Fili says.

“Well, we have the room.”

She walks back inside and speaks with Thorin. They plan on staying the night.

“Do you need blankets or anything?”

“No,” he replies shortly, “We'll be fine.”

She nods. “Okay then. I hope you guys have a pleasant night.”

“Thank you.”

“Cassia,” Fili calls. She pauses by the door and turns back to him.

“Yes?”

“If you do end up coming with us, well, I'd like to spend more time with you.”

Cassia smiles at him. “I'd like that, too. Good night, Fili.”

“Good night, Cassia.”

She shuts her bedroom door behind her, biting her lip. Fili's rather handsome for a dwarf, isn't he?

 

“You like her!” Kili grins, elbowing him. His brother turns red and hits him.

“I do not!”

“Yes you do! I saw you talking to her! Did you tell her?”

“Kili, I barely know her. It's not like that.”

“But you can get to know her on the quest.”

“She might not even come, Kili, she's not even of age.”

“Then profess your undying love to her and ask her to wait for you to come back.”

“Like a storybook character?”

“Exactly like a story character. Come on, you're a prince. It's romantic.”

“You're hopeless.”

“I'm a genius!”

Fili thumps his brother on head.

 

Cassia lays in bed and makes a plan to the sound of the dwarves singing. She fills a pack with several pairs of trousers, a few tunics, several rags for any, ah, womanly occurrences, and a bedroll, and sets out a change of clothes, a jacket, her good cloak, and fills a shoulder bag with other various items around her room: a pair of mittens, a stocking cap, a small sewing kit, few handkerchiefs, a bar of soap and a washcloth, a comb for her hair, and few more bits and bobs. Then, she sits down on her armchair, cracks open a book of dwarven fairy tales she bought from a caravan last spring, and tries not to fall asleep. For her plan to work, she needs to wake before the dwarves, forge Bilbo's signature for the contract (as she's underage), and con her way into the Company. Easy.

The story she's reading is a familiar one, about a prince with hair of gold. Before today, she'd always imagined said prince to be rather hobbit-like in appearance, but now he looks like the one in her living room. She shuts her book. That's no good. It won't do to have a crush on one of her travelling companions. Cassia chews on her thumbnail and draws her knees up to her chest. But he is rather nice. She's never kissed anyone with a beard before and wonders what it would feel like.


Cassia awakens in early morning to birds singing softly. The sky is gray in the east. She swears softly and dresses quickly, arranging pillows under her blankets to buy her time if Bilbo comes to investigate.

The dwarves are already gone when she creeps out of her bedroom. She packs what little food the dwarves didn't eat in her shoulder bag, digs up an old paper signed by her brother and copies the signature on to the contract (she's done this before, so it's not hard). She then signs her own name with a flourish, tucks her book of dwarven fairy tales into her pack and hurries out the door.

“I'm coming along!”

The Company turns as a whole to spy Miss Baggins dashing after them. She's dressed much more practically, now, with trousers under and knee-length skirt, a jacket and cloak, a pack slung over one shoulder and a shoulder bag to boot.

Gandalf laughs. Cassia doesn't expect them to stop and goes cannoning right into Fili for the second time in as many days. He catches her easily, barely even moving from her full weight hitting him.

“Oh, goodness.” She scrambles backward, righting herself.

“You all right?”

“Yes. Sorry about that. I'll try to stop doing this.” She pulls the end of her braid out from under her pack. “I've come to be your burglar, if you'll have me.” She waves her contract. “See?” Balin takes it from her and examines it.

“Yes, everything seems to be in order. Welcome to the Company of Thorin Oakenshield, Cassia Baggins.” Cassia grins.

“Thank you, Mister Balin!”