Darrell Rivers was no longer a new girl. She began her second term at Malory Towers with great excitement, alongside her best friend Sally Hope.
Although Darrell was very familiar with life at her boarding school, some experiences were still new. When Games season began, Darrell rather expected to feel strange. Not homesick, but perhaps a little sad. She always looked forward to her family’s Hunger Games traditions, and this was the first year she’d ever missed out. However, Games season at Malory Towers looked promising, and once the festivities began she barely thought about her home.
The girls woke up early on reaping day, full of excited chatter about the day to come. There were no lessons today, and only music-mad Irene bothered with piano practice. The usual brown-and-orange uniforms were cast aside for the day, as the girls were expected to dress for the occasion.
“The staff look frightful,” said Alicia, walking into the dormitory. “Potty’s gone in for teal feathers.”
“I wouldn’t dream of wearing last season’s colour!” said Gwendoline, carefully arranging her long sheet of golden hair.
“Shut up, Gwendoline.”
“Well, I wouldn’t! It’s important to keep up with the current style. You know I’m right, Alicia.”
Alicia looked annoyed, but decided to ignore Gwendoline entirely.
“I’m going to meet Betty. See you all downstairs.”
The food at Malory Towers was usually quite ordinary, but Games season was a celebration. Halfway through the morning, Darrell snuck into the dining room for a quick peek and, oh, everything looked scrumptious! Roast pheasants in rich sauces; fresh bread, emitting the most heavenly scent; a towering chocolate cake, piled with fresh strawberries and thick cream; tarts with a honey-coloured filling that glittered enticingly; and the centrepiece was an enormous trident sculpted out of ice – in honour of last year’s victor, Darrell supposed. And, of course, the obligatory table of delicate glasses filled with a colourless liquid, to ensure the girls were able to sample everything. Darrell hugged herself in excitement. This was even better than half term!
“There are two feasts,” explained Tessie, a second former. “One today, before the reapings, to mark the beginning of the season. And another at the end, to honour the fallen and celebrate the new victor.”
“What fun!” said Sally, her eyes gleaming. “Do we go back to our common rooms for the broadcasts?”
“Oh, not on feast days. They set up a large screen in the court, and we all squeeze onto those stone benches and watch together. They keep the big screen going for the entire Games, and it’s a jolly good show, but we can watch wherever we please. We’re only required in the court on feast days.”
When the doors to the dining room opened, the crowd of hungry girls poured in. Darrell’s quick peek had only revealed a fraction of the spread; there were tables and tables of meats, vegetables, breads, cheeses, fruits, and sweets. Darrell sampled a piece of everything, and even had second helpings of her favourites.
“I say,” said Irene, around a mouthful of éclair, “if the kitchens are capable of this standard, why are our regular dinners so rotton?”
Even when the feast drew to a close, it wasn’t truly over. The girls were permitted to bring food to the broadcast, so when Darrell trooped into the court with the others she was clutching a large bowl of strawberries. She sat in a group with other North Tower first formers, and her heart gave its usual thrill of delight when the Capitol seal appeared onscreen, and the familiar anthem began to play.
Once Caesar Flickerman finished chattering at the camera, she watched the tribute selection with great interest. Darrell was, of course, too young formally bet on tributes, but she usually played a complicated point-scoring game with her family that had a similar function. Most years, she performed admirably. She prided herself on being observant, and she had a knack for predicting tributes’ behaviour in the arena. Darrell watched carefully as the girl from District Three screamed, struggling against the Peacekeepers dragging her onstage. She was strong. Not a necessarily a victor, Darrell thought, but perhaps she would make the top five.
“For heaven’s sake, Mary Lou! Stop blubbering!”
Darrell giggled. She wasn’t surprised by this outburst; Alicia had little patience for people who cried, and Mary Lou was exactly the sort of person who would shed a few tears over reapings. Darrell’s mother was the same – reapings were rather emotional affairs, and she always kept her handkerchief close during the broadcast. The family’s good-natured teasing often had her laughing by the time it was District Twelve’s turn. But when Darrell heard an audible sob, she turned in surprise. Mary Lou looked simply frightful. Her eyes and nose were red, and tears poured down her face while shoulders shook with quiet sobs.
“It’s only the reaping!” said Alicia, exasperated. “What will she be like when the fun really begins?”
“It’s dreadful,” whispered Mary Lou. “That poor girl.”
Sally kindly placed a hand on Mary Lou’s shoulder.
“It’s an honour, Mary Lou.”
“Exactly,” nodded Alicia. “If I were from District Three, I’d much rather die in the Hunger Games than… oh, I don’t know, how do people die in District Three? Electrocution?”
Irene laughed. “If you were in the Games, Alicia, I don’t think you’d die at all!”
“I’d be a marvellous victor! If we were in the arena, I’d sort out you lot with no trouble at all.”
“If you could catch me,” grinned Darrell. “I outrun you in every lacrosse practice, remember?”
“Well, if I had the right weapons, I wouldn’t need to outrun you.”
“Oh, please stop. It isn’t funny.”
“Come on, Mary Lou.” Darrell handed her a strawberry. “You’ll cheer up once the blood starts flowing.”
Darrell was a sensible girl, and she wasn’t bothered by the violence of the arena. So she didn’t expect Mary Lou to shudder in response.
“Don’t say things like that, Darrell.”
“It’s a horrible way to die. You wouldn’t want to be chopped to pieces in front of all of Panem, would you?”
“Of course not. But it’s different.”
Darrell sighed. Mary Lou studied the same history lessons as everyone else; how could she be so thick?
“This is justice. It’s how we heal as a nation after the horror of the uprisings. The districts owe a debt to the Capitol, and it’s only fair that they pay it back in blood.”
“No.” Mary Lou, still distressed, shook her head. “No. They don’t deserve this, Darrell. Nobody does.”
Darrell’s eyes widened, while Sally and Irene both gave quiet gasps. Alicia reached over Darrell and grabbed Mary Lou roughly by the arm.
“Look here, Mary Lou,” she hissed. “Pull yourself together, and don’t say anything like that again. Ever.”
The girls were a little subdued as the reapings continued. But their silence ebbed away, and things eventually returned to normal. Alicia scoffed at the pale, trembling pair from District Ten, but Darrell wasn’t so hasty. The secret, she thought, was to never dismiss a tribute based on their reaping. Any one of them could turn out to be a dark horse.
“But they probably won’t,” said Alicia, when Darrell pointed this out. “There’s a reason why One and Two usually win.”
“I love it when someone from an outer district takes everybody by surprise,” said Sally. “Like Cecelia.”
“Gracious! That was years ago!”
“Exactly. We’re due for another surprise.”
“No, what we need is another Enobaria,” declared Alicia. “She was spectacular!”
“We have Enobarias every year,” dismissed Sally. “There’s no shortage of them.”
“District One have nicer names,” said Gwendoline, who had managed to join them.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“There are some awful names in the outer districts. If one of those kids wins, we have to spend the next year honouring someone called… well, Seeder, for example.”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
Gwendoline tossed her head. “It is not!”
“Besides, Seeder won before you were even born.”
“That’s just an example! She was onscreen for Eleven’s reaping, she’s the first one I thought of!”
“Oh, do shut up, you two,” said Sally.
Gwendoline sulkily crossed her arms.
“Well, if you’re wondering, my favourite victor is Cashmere.”
“We weren’t,” said Alicia.
Once Districts Eleven and Twelve had finished, Caesar Flickerman returned to the screen, eagerly discussing the new crop of tributes with Claudius Templesmith. Mary Lou had been quiet for a long time, so Darrell gave a friendly jab with her elbow.
“He’s awfully silly,” grinned Darrell. “But I like him. He’s very good at his job.”
Mary Lou gave a wavery smile, not quite meeting Darrell’s eyes.
“Yes,” she said. “He’s very good.”
When the broadcast was over, the first and second formers were expected to go immediately to their dormitories. After the excitement of the day, they were all quite exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep. The school beds weren’t nearly as comfortable as the girls’ beds at home, but that hardly mattered. Darrell fell asleep quickly, very much looking forward to tomorrow. Games season was finally here – she could hardly wait til morning!