The judge's gavel fell with a final thump.
"Be it the opinion and judgment of this court that the apparent adoption and transfer of rights from the estate of Bilbo Baggins late of Bag End, Hobbiton to the person of one Frodo Baggins, late of Brandy Hall, Buckland, currently residing at the former address, shall be found null and void."
"All items of inheritance therefore belonging to the rightful heir, Otho Sackville-Baggins and his espoused, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, said items of the estate including but not limited to the property known as Bag End and the entirety of its contents are to pass to said Otho Sackville-Baggins and then to his legal progeny upon his decease."
Frodo closed his eyes and said nothing. Merry and Fatty on either side of him exchanged worried looks and tentatively placed their hands near his shoulders, should he need support.
"Final Will and Testament and all related papers, deeds and bills of sale being the property of the rightful heir, all legal items previously accorded to one Frodo Baggins now formerly of Bag End, Hobbiton, will be ceded to said Otho and family effective immediately."
Meriadoc Brandybuck bit his tongue. Hard. The last time he had made his opinion about these legal proceedings clear it had nearly had him ejected from the room. He looked over at the burly-armed Bounder that stood at the door. Considering they had already lost Pippin this way, he didn't want to leave his friend with no remaining moral support. Useful support, that is.
Fatty lacked the fortitude for serious situations like this in his opinion; Merry had already concluded nothing would take him from Frodo's side. He had been by him all the way through this nightmare, ever since late on the night of the party, when the S-Bs and their lawyer had descended to prove the adoption had no legal binding. Without Bilbo to argue the case or sign the one paper that had been found lacking, it had been an unending chaos of papers, letters and speeches apparently all for naught.
Under his ready hand he felt Frodo beginning to slump down. He tightened his arm, and kept his friend looking upright and proud when both of them knew there was nothing else left.
Frodo sat upon the front step of Bag End in a state of shock. Overhead, the trees were still golden with Autumn's color and the mild sun shone but he shivered. From the doorway he could still hear Lobelia directing Lotho on the placement of a trunk that had just been carried in.
Merry sat by his side. "We've got a room all fixed up for you at the Hall. Much nicer than your old one, too. You've a lot of sympathizers in Buckland and you're more than welcome there, no matter what the folk of Hobbiton think."
Frodo drew his knees up to his chest and hugged them, burrowing into the thick woolen coat. It had been Bilbo's coat, but so far no one had dared to go so far as to try take even that from him.
"Lobelia's trying to charge me back rent for Bag End, retroactive to the night of the party," he said. "How I wish they hadn't got ahold of those papers so quickly, that I might have at least had a few days of peace in the old Hill before all this mess."
"How were you to know they would come barging in like that? And with their lawyer in tow, too? They might have had the decency to at least wait until the party was over. Maybe if Gandalf had been able to stay longer," said Merry. "Do you think he could have helped out somehow?"
"Other than his being able to tell me where Bilbo had gone to, so I could follow him I don't know. I've half a mind to try it anyway."
"What, go wandering off into the Wild looking for one old hobbit? Are you crazy?"
Frodo looked bleak. "Maybe I am, dear Merry. Maybe I am…"
He watched as the Gaffer and his son Sam gathered up the last of their gardening tools from the yard and carted them back towards their home. Merry watched, wondering what would become of the well-tended gardens now. The Gamgees had refused to continue in the S-B's employ.
He took a breath and stood up, slapping his thighs. "Well, no use sitting here all long-faced like this. Come on; I've got the wagon ready and your luggage is already settled."
Frodo allowed his friend to pull him to his feet. He followed him to the waiting cart. "You know," he said as he climbed up into the seat, "I came to Bag End with little more than the clothes upon my back. It appears I shall be leaving much as I came."
"Maybe. I think you'll find there's a right lot of hobbits who think fondly of you, if only for the sake of the kindness that Bilbo showed them. When I said we had a room fixed up for you, I meant it. All sorts of things have been given just to outfit it."
"I don't deserve their kindness," Frodo said. "It really should be going to Bilbo somehow…"
"But then the Sackville-Bagginses would have that too."
Frodo sighed and managed to give his friend a wry smile. "I guess you're right. Very well. No more long faces!" He turned to the Hill as the wheels beneath them began to squeak and turn, bumping over the ruts in the lane. "Good-bye, Bag End. You were a fine, fine home. I'll remember you…"
The cart made its way down the road, slowly wending along between groups of hobbits who had all turned out to see it pass, small presents, baskets of cakes and casseroles being added to its light burden as it went. A very small number felt it was a good thing that the magnificence of Bag End, that jewel of Hobbiton, was at last back in the hands of "regular" hobbit-folk, but they dare not open their mouths to say so this day.
It was some hours later, long after the wagon had gone into the distance that Lobelia and Otho received the packet of official papers from the judge's assistant. Lobelia tossed them onto the table in the parlour and returned to the inventory of her treasures that interested her far more. To her, the papers and everything related to them had already served their purpose.
Otho was of a slightly more practical nature. He paused and set aside the fine silver-stemmed pipe he had found in the bureau drawer, though not before he had filled and tamped it down with top-quality pipeweed. Unlooping the cord that held the packet shut, he slid the thick sheaf of folded papers out to be sure none were missing. Once again, he noted a plain parchment envelope that had been among them, no marking on it but a simple addressing to Frodo. It was in Bilbo's handwriting.
He looked out the window towards the road, where the setting sun was now spilling its gold across the wintering garden, as if to be sure the occupants of that wagon had not somehow seen this and returned posthaste. He looked back at the envelope and turned it over in his hand. It felt heavy. On an odd impulse he didn't open it but rather tucked it into his pocket.
Well, whatever it was Frodo was too late to claim it now. He would never even know.