1. Dragon's Fire
Frodo's Lovely Suite
Bilbo not admitted
"Now, that wasn't here this afternoon," Bilbo mused, not quite comfortable with the look of the sign, and knocked at the door. "Frodo? Frodo, lad, are you in there?"
"No," was the quick retort.
Bilbo stood, scratching his left ear, unsure of what to do. He observed that the piece of paper that now declared the room as Frodo's, was attached to the door with sealing wax. The letters were neatly done and Bilbo wondered when the lad had written them since he had not heard him leaving the room since teatime. "May I come in?"
To his satisfaction, he heard the boy move. A relieved smile grew on his face as steps approached the door. A moment later, the latch was drawn closed. Bilbo sighed and hung his head. It seemed as if the two of them were not going to get off to a good start. It hadn't taken even a day for him to be barred from Frodo's room.
The lad had been grumpy yesterday, but that was understandable. A three-day journey, on the road from sunrise until late after nightfall, and a rank of emotions from pleasant anticipation to tearful farewells had exhausted the child. The moving-in had caused its share of aggravation too, which had not helped Frodo feel at ease and – more importantly – at home in Bag End. Bilbo had hoped, now that everything was settled, they would both be able to rest, but then…
Shortly before teatime, there was a knock at the door. Bilbo hadn't expected any visitors and was looking forward to having tea and cake with Frodo, once the lad had finished a much-needed bath. He was not surprised, though, to find Bell Gamgee at the door, a freshly baked strawberry roulade in her hands and a huge smile on her face.
"Hullo, Mr. Bilbo!" Her smile grew wider as she assumed her welcome and stepped through the door.
Seeing her curiously sweeping gaze, Bilbo chuckled. "He's in the bath, I'm afraid."
Her face coloured as she realized her ruse had been seen through, and a disappointed "oh" escaped her lips.
Bilbo winked at her, knowing very well how much Bell adored the 'little one', as she had always called Frodo. She'd missed his previously frequent visits to Bag End a great deal. "I'm sure he won't be that long. Come in and have a cup of tea."
Bell smiled brightly again and they sat at the kitchen table to discuss the thorny problem of how to best raise grumpy, tweenaged lads, especially those whose situations were as difficult as young Frodo's.
A frightened scream interrupted their conversation. It was followed by the sound of a door being slammed hard. Bilbo put down his cup hurriedly enough to spill half of the tea and Bell raised her head in surprise as a dripping wet and panting Frodo appeared in the doorway wearing naught but a look of terror. "Bilbo, there's a dr… a d…," he stammered helplessly, "a dragon in the bathroom! It's alive!"
The alarm on Bilbo's face quickly faded to mild amusement. Many years ago, he had brought a cauldron in the shape of a dragon's head back from the Lonely Mountain. It had sat, unused on his shelf until recently when the old kettle he used for heating bathwater began to leak. The cauldron had never looked very frightening, just a shallow relief and highly stylised bronze dragon, hardly even a good likeness, to Bilbo's mind, but when water was heated inside it, the two large opals that served as the dragon's eyes would suddenly begin to glow in the steamy darkness of the bathroom. He had completely forgotten to warn Frodo about it. If you were not prepared for it, the sight of them would give you a start. Trying hard not to laugh out loud, Bilbo raised an eyebrow. "Don't worry, as long as you don't anger it, it won't bite."
Frodo stared at him in disbelief, looking as though Bilbo had turned into a dragon as well right before his eyes. His fingers clutched the doorframe tightly, damp curls clung to his forehead and his glistening chest rose and fell with his unsteady breaths.
"He has grown," Bell observed, looking the lad over from head to toe as if he were a side of beef at the market.
Bilbo chuckled, finding it highly amusing that Mrs. Gamgee, the formidable and sturdy goodwife, was completely unimpressed by the alleged dragon in Bag End's bathroom. "And quite nicely, I'd say," he agreed.
Suddenly realising that Bilbo was not alone, Frodo gaped back at the visitor. Bell was nodding approvingly, her motherly eye evaluating the tween's proffered body and apparently finding what she saw satisfactory. Frodo, his eyes widening with even more terror than he had shown for the dragon, stood stock-still, his face turning from white to red to crimson. Then, with a horror-stricken gasp, he turned on his heel and dashed down the corridor. The slamming of the door behind him practically shook the whole smial.
"Frodo, please, let me in," Bilbo demanded, turning the doorknob though he knew the door was locked.
"Why should I?" came the sullen reply.
Letting go of the knob, the old hobbit sighed and leaned against the doorframe. "I want to talk to you."
"You're already talking."
Bilbo rolled his eyes. What was there to make such a fuss about? "I would like to look you in the eye when I do so."
There was movement inside, but no answer. As the silence grew, Bilbo joggled the door again, but that got no reaction at all. Heaving a sigh, he slumped against the candlelit wall. Bell, and others before her, had told him that raising children was no easy task. It hadn't taken long to prove them right. He regretted that he hadn't gone into Frodo's room while he'd still had the chance to do so.
"So, not only do you enjoy embarrassing and making fun of me, but you also need to see my suffering?"
"Suffering?" Bilbo chuckled. "My dear boy, do you really think you possess anything Bell Gamgee has not seen before? Believe me, she's seen far worse than naked lads."
The silence that followed this remark was long and heavy. Shaking his head, Bilbo tried to another tactic. "Consider this, lad, at least your looks pleased her. I doubt she'd have been as impressed if it had been me in the all together in the drawing room."
"Aunt Gilda was right when she said you would never be able to raise me," Frodo told him crossly. Bilbo could almost see his grim expression and the determined line of his mouth. "You're tactless, mean and wallow in the misery of others."
Bilbo crooked an eyebrow. "How did you know about my conversation with Gilda and Rory?"
"Rory's not the only one who knows what's going on in the Hall," Frodo observed wryly. "I have ears too. And I have feelings!"
And you've a way of getting the information you need and of using it to your advantage, Bilbo thought fondly. He had never told Frodo about the long night in the Master's study when things had finally been decided. He'd nipped every concern they had brought up in the bud – though Bilbo doubted Gilda and Rory believed all he had said. The fact that Frodo now repeated the same words his aunt had used pained him, but he shook his head. The lad was sulking and he would get over it. There was nothing to worry about. Taking a deep breath he pressed on. "Look, lad, Bell is mother of three sons and…"
"But she is not my mother!"
Bilbo winced at the pain and anger in Frodo's words. Eight years might have gone by, but Frodo still mourned his parents and missed them bitterly. He looked down; suddenly understanding what Frodo must have felt being uprooted from the only home he'd ever known. He was not going to get anywhere with the boy if he didn't show a little compassion.
You brought him here so he wouldn't be hurt again, Bilbo, and yet you've managed to do just that in less than a week. Don't speak to him of a mother he does not have. Although Gilda and Esmie surely did their best, he still misses her. You were a tween once, too, though long ago, you should have remembered how it was. Baggins, you old fool! Stop teasing him, at least until he's got settled and secure in his new home. If you don't have an ear and a heart for his tweenage worries, he will never open up to you and remain as withdrawn and lonely as he was in Brandy Hall.
"You know, it scared me too," Bilbo admitted. Frodo took his time responding as if unsure of what to say.
"Why?" and after a short pause, "When?" Frodo seemed curious now, the heat gone from his voice.
The old hobbit smiled. That's the right way, Bilbo!
"When I first heated that cauldron, I didn't know about the glowing opals. I was so surprised, I let go of the piece of soap in my hands, backed away, and promptly slipped on it."
Another movement inside made Bilbo prick his ears. "Were you hurt?" His voice closer now.
Bilbo chuckled. "My pride definitely was. Me, dragon-spy and master-burglar backing away from a glowing cauldron!"
Was that a giggle?
"I'm sorry, lad," Bilbo confessed, taking the chance offered to him. "I should have warned you about the dragon-cauldron."
"And you should have warned me, when you saw me standing there…" The old hobbit bit back his laughter remembering the scene. Frodo's voice broke reproachfully and the embarrassment Bilbo had seen that afternoon on his face could be heard in his voice. The latch was pulled back.
Putting on an apologetic face, Bilbo straightened as Frodo opened the door and stepped into the corridor with his head bowed. Bilbo's smile broadened. Parenting was tough, but he would succeed in spite of Gilda's mistrust and Bell's well-meaning counsel. He could raise Frodo, bachelor or no. Laying a jovial arm around the youngling's shoulder, Bilbo winked at him as the tween's uncertain eyes met his. Frodo had some fire in him, but did not quite know how to use it yet. "Well, that was an exciting afternoon, wasn't it?" he announced, laughing joyfully to himself. "You should have seen your face, my boy! Red as an overripe tomato and your eyes almost goggled out of their sockets!"
"Bilbo!" Frodo admonished furiously, shooting the older hobbit an irate glance. He was about to return into his room for a second round of rebellion, but Bilbo wouldn't allow him to wriggle out of his grip.
"You're not going anywhere, lad," he told him briskly, but in a stern voice. "You're a Baggins and as such you'll have to endure statements like that. In fact, you should be the one making them."
"I'm half Brandybuck," Frodo growled under his breath not wishing to relinquish his defiance.
"You're more Baggins than you might think, my boy," Bilbo smiled, realizing he was very pleased with the day's incidents. Without a word he led his nephew down the corridor. He was very aware of the challenge in the child's eyes. There was fire in them. "There's still some seedcake waiting for you. And Bell brought one of her famous strawberry roulades."
Frodo raised an eyebrow, his voice suddenly unsure. "You're not going to invite Mrs. Gamgee again anytime soon, are you?"
Bilbo chuckled, tousling his lad's ebony curls. "What about tomorrow night?" He winked. "And I might ask her to bring her daughters with her too."
"Bilbo!" the youngster grumbled, though this time with less anger.
Bilbo's face lit with a fond smile. There were many things the child still needed to learn, not the least of which was a sense of humour and how to develop a thicker skin, but there was still time and he was more than willing to teach him all that he could.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.