Why would large, flying (possibly fire-breathing) dragons hide in plain sight?
MOBS OF PEOPLE. Or more specifically, a mob of bloodthirsty dragonslayers.
Notice that in most popular media, a dragon is considered so powerful that loads of dragonslayers are needed to fell it
Whether a dragon’s vicious reputation is warranted or simply exaggerated depends on the author. But if a dragon can shift to human form, it usually means that the dragon is hiding in plain sight (i.e. in anonymity among the mass of humans that would fear or even try to hunt them).
More often than not, dragons hiding among humans are dragons living in the modern or future era. It’s usually an era that no longer holds superstition too closely. So the majority would think of dragons as a myth. The only exception is a (usually clandestine) cabal/group/brotherhood of dragon hunters.
If the dragon is the main character, expect the cabal to be zealots who think that the only good dragon is a dead dragon. Also expect the dragon protagonist’s family or group of dragon friends to also think negatively of the hunters and humans in general. Hence adding an added layer of isolation to the dragon protagonist who (more often than not) is portrayed to be some sort of trailblazer who wants to break away from his or her species’ commonly held beliefs
Some common tropes to expect when the dragon can shift to human form and is considered the “oddball” of the dragon clan/society:
1.) Interspecies romance
In general, the dragon protagonist is paired off with a human. In some cases, he or she is paired off with a dragon hunter which adds an enemies to lovers trope.
More often than not, the human love interest starts off not even knowing the dragon’s true identity. All the human love interest sees is a seemingly odd guy/girl. How they react during the REVEAL depends on the author. But it can vary from ecstatic to horrified.
2.)WHO IS THE MONSTER?
When all the dragon protagonist wants is to live in peace but his/her whole species is being hunted down indiscriminately, it tends to bring up the question of who the true monster is. After all, the dragon protagonist cannot change being born a dragon. And the hunter’s only criteria for killing dragon protagonist is his/her membership in the draconic species. It does make the HUMAN dragon slayers look bad for perpetrating what really amounts to genocide
3.) Insulated draconic society
Being an endangered albeit powerful species does make a draconic society cut off from humans in general. Expect dragons to view humans as a lesser species (even if humans may be one of the main reasons dragons are endangered). Depending on how closely an author wants their dragons to portray the ruthless, human-eating and treasure-loving stereotype given to dragons, expect draconic society to be either very close or loosely connected. Some authors portray them as having nuclear family groups while other draconic society are portrayed as thoroughly alien to human families with dragons not even knowing who their parents are.
Here are some examples of dragons living incognito:
1.) Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron
2.) Talon by Julie Kagawa
3.) Firelight by Sophie Jordan