The Slytherin common room was packed and a buzz of real excitement filled the air. Almost all of the assembled students were looking forward to what the day might bring – a chance to show off their skills for magic and cunning, coupled with an opportunity to gain kudos amongst their peers. The exceptions were those few students who didn't really fit in Slytherin house quite as well as they might have done. Those who did not come from pureblood lineages, or whose parents had not also been Slytherins. Those unfortunate enough to be marked out by some minor defect – a stutter perhaps, a soft streak. Even in a community that considers itself dark and dangerous, there were those considered not quite dangerous enough, and these students were treated ruthlessly by their classmates.
Jana fell firmly into this category. She was a mudblood. They were very rare indeed in Slytherin, unheard of to the point of being freakish. To make matters worse, she wasn't terribly good at anything involving wands. Only a significant knack for hiding had preserved her sanity during her three previous years at Hogwarts. The former head of house, Professor Slughorn, had not been outright unpleasant to her. She had a good brain, even if her magical talents were limited, and Slughorn's oft expressed philosophy was that most people possessed some quality worth exploiting. He had never discovered hers, but her reliably high marks encouraged him to think she had something about her despite her unpromising origins.
Just as she was carefully hiding herself in the shadow of one of the long, dark curtains, Severus Snape entered the room. His presence inspired instant silence. Jana thought that promotion to head of house had made him look even more haughty and aloof than usual. He gazed around the room, his sharp eyes picking her out for a few seconds that made her tremble helplessly. The man frightened her about as much as he intrigued her. They had joined Hogwarts in the same year, he to teach potions, she as a gauche and awkward student. The sorting hat had taken one look at the inside of her mind and declared her a Slytherin through and through, even if she hadn't managed to get herself born that way. She never once doubted that the hat was right, even if her fellow students questioned it continually. Jana knew what she could do, and they didn't – secrets she rather enjoyed.
"Today we play the Slytherin Game, an excellent tradition passed down through this house for many years," Professor Snape announced. His voice wasn't especially loud, but it carried to every corner of the room.
"For those of you who have not participated before, the rules are as follows. One student will be selected as the quarry. That student may take any measure they see fit to hide and protect themselves within the buildings and grounds of Hogwarts. The quarry is granted a fifteen minute head start. The hunters may use any means appropriate to catch and return the quarry. Hunters may work alone, or in teams as they prefer. There is, as you no doubt perceive, more kudos to bringing down the quarry alone. If you are caught doing anything untoward by another member of staff, you are disqualified, and letters will be sent to parents. No player is permitted to mention the game to anyone not in Slytherin, dire consequences will follow for anyone foolhardy enough to break this rule. If the quarry remains free until sunset, they are declared the winner. Does anyone have any questions?"
Stiletto Hemlock, a first year with features almost as pointed as her name, put her hand up at once.
"Sir, are there any restrictions on what we can d to the quarry to subdue them in order to bring them back here?"
"The quarry must be returned alive to the common room, and any damage to them must be temporary in nature. Anyone else?"
A hand went up on the far side of the room. Jana couldn't see who it was.
"Are we allowed, the hunters that it, to take out other hunters?"
"You may use any means you see fit, within the limitation that death is deemed an unacceptable side effect of the game. Elric Black, you have a question?"
"What about places normally deemed off limits, like the forbidden forest?"
"If a player - hunter or quarry, chooses to enter an off limits area of the school, they do so at their own risk. Let me make this clear to you. If you get into any kind of difficulty, sustain an injury, fall foul of other staff members or otherwise compromise yourself, no one in this house will acknowledge any responsibility. This game does not officially exist."
Snape gave his remarks time to sink in before he spoke again.
"We must pick a runner, someone with the wit and skill to stay hidden for a while. Who will be our quarry?"
He scanned the room slowly. Jana pressed herself against the wall, and kept her eyes up, knowing better than to show any signs of doubt or fear. She knew he was as likely to pick an unpopular student for his pets to torment, as he was to choose one who might stand a chance of out running the pack.
"Joquasta Bifrost managed very well last year, and evaded capture until the afternoon. We have not had a quarry winner in quite some time now I believe. Who considers themselves ready for a challenge?"
One or two of the older boys raised hands, and Snape nodded, acknowledging their offer.
"Perhaps we shall test our collective metal today, discovering who has the intellect worthy of this house, who amongst us has the sheer deviousness of imagination, the capacity for subterfuge and the cunning that befits a Slytherin."
The room was utterly silent as he spoke.
"Janet Jones. I choose you to be our quarry for the day."
Jana felt her face growing unbearably hot as other students looked round the room, trying to pick her out.
"Jones, come here."
She went, with heavy heart, wishing she could disappear into the carpet.
"Take a good look at Jones, and make sure you can recognise her. She may take measures to disguise herself. Now, you will have your head start, I suggest you commence running."
One pale and slender hand opened the common room door in front of her. A firm hand on her shoulder pushed her through. She heard the door click shut. Jana lost precious moments in blind panic, not knowing which way to run or where to hide. It wasn't the ignominy of capture that troubled her, it was the certainty that she would be made to suffer by whoever tracked her down. The game created a perfect opportunity to settle old debts, punish victims of preference and generally cause as much unpleasantness as possible. Jana was not a popular student. She had spent the last three games hiding herself – no one much cared where she was or what she did and participation had never especially appealed. This year she was going to have to hide very well indeed. She started running, at first not thinking at all about where she went, but needing to get away.