Bilbo sighed. Behind him he could still hear the dwarves laughing uproariously as they finished stacking his plates and crockery. He knew Gandalf was chuckling in the background – harmless fun his hairy feet – and wondered if this nightmare would ever end. He still didn't know why this group? Troupe? Mass of dwarves was even here.

What did one call a quantity of dwarves? Bilbo was reciting the specific group names in his head that he knew of – flock, pride, troop… explosion – when then was one more knock on the door.

If the steady yet authoritative rhythm didn't tell Bilbo that this visitor was different from the rest, the fact that the mob behind him were silent for the first time since their little drinking/burping contest did.

Mob?

No, too simple.

Herd?

No. As much as his empty pantry disagreed, they weren't animals.

Bilbo sighed. Again. He went to sigh again at realising he had finally begun to exhibit the same habit as his father, but stopped upon realising the irony. Although he seriously reconsidered it when he saw the state of his floor in the entry way.

Explosion was becoming more and more suitable…

Bilbo finally opened the door. After the lot already arrived, this dwarf was strangely... Once again he felt stuck for the right word. Normal was far too understated for such a powerful figure, which clearly this dwarf was. Or thought he was.

Controlled, his brain supplied, as Bilbo stammered his way through his final greeting of the night. This dwarf screamed control, from the way he stood, the way he glared Bilbo down, and the way he totally ignored the others standing in his shadow.

Shadow?

If he wasn't so preoccupied with the dwarf in front of his, who was busy asking if he was a grocer, Bilbo hoped he would have noticed the figures standing behind earlier. As it was, they were standing totally in the shadow, out of the light from Bag End's windows.

"Thorin Oakenshield," Gandalf greeted from behind Bilbo.

The dwarf – Thorin – nodded in reply and finally came in. Bilbo looked questioningly towards the two shadows outside, wondering if they were coming inside, but Thorin didn't even turn.

"Keep watch on the packs until dawn," he said coolly over his shoulder, then followed Gandalf into the dining room towards the other dwarfs.

Bilbo was still hesitant to close the door, but the two outside bowed and headed off back into the night without another word.

Of all the strange things he had seen that evening, why should two dwarves – an assumption, but not unreasonable – staying outside, seem so odd to him?

It was a puzzle that stuck with Bilbo not just in the hours that followed, but for days into the quest that Gandalf had signed him up for. It was something in the body language of everyone involved. But his brain, used to searching for lost words and connecting ideas, merely filed its observations away to be dealt with at another time.