I jog back into our house, kneeling down to scratch Buttercup behind his ears."The fence is on."

Mum nods, biting her lip and trying hard not to look worried. She picks up the blouse and skirt Katniss wore for her first reaping."Let's get you ready, Prim."

I quickly wash up and slip into the clothes that are somewhat loose on my slim body. By the time Mum is done with brushing and braiding my hair and holding my clothes in place with a few well-placed pins, Katniss is still not here.

Sighing and checking the time over and over, Mum finally lays out one of her old dresses for Katniss and takes my hand with a forced smile."We'll just have to go ahead, Prim."

I nod and quickly pet Buttercup once more before leaving home, clutching my mother's hand as though it would protect me from the Capitol if she just won't let go.

I know that the odds are very much in my favour, but I am still terrified of my first reaping.

And even if my name was not in the ball this year, the gut-wrenching fear for Katniss's safety would still be ever-present.

I need her here with me now, her strong, determined face much more reassuring than the grasp of my mother's hand when she can barely keep from shaking.

I'm not mad at her like Katniss, though, because I can understand her better. I'm like her. We're healers, not fighters.

.

Mum sends me of to the other twelve year olds with a kiss on the cheek and a spasm of the lips that just won't turn into a smile. I intertwine my fingers with those of my best friend aside from Rory, Livia, and check the sixteens section for Katniss.

I can't find her and turn my gaze to the boys instead. I catch Rory's eyes and he shakes his head with wide eyes, letting me know he doesn't know when Gale and Katniss will turn up either.

I swallow hard. They'll be in real trouble if they miss the reaping and someone finds out. What if Katniss is reaped? And she isn't even here? What if Gale is reaped and Rory has to sign up for tesserae? What if I am reaped and Katniss isn't even there to say goddbye? What if I never see her again?

Then Effie Trinket's voice brings me out of my stupor."Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favour!"

Livia's grasp on my hand tightens as Effie makes her way over to the girls' reaping ball with her signiture "Ladies first!"

I want to tell her we will both be fine, but unlike me, she has four entries – still not as many as most others, but far worse than my own single slip of paper. She is shaking, just like the merchant girl, Estelle, who sometimes eats lunch with us on my other side – and, of course, I myself. No matter how many entries you have, you will be terrified.

On stage, Effie unfolds the paper.

Not Katniss, please, not Katniss!

And then she calls a name. And it's not Katniss.

"Primrose Everdeen!"

.

Both Livia and Estelle shriek in horror and clutch on to me but I know they can't help me now so I untangle myself from them and walk towards the stage as slowly as I dare, hoping that by some mircale I will be send away again.

But of course, there is no mircale and I stand motionless on the stage as Effie – am I imagining things or is even her smile a little bit less wide? - walks over to the boys' reaping ball to the unhappy mumblings of the crowd.

No one wants to see someone my age go into the arena.

I'm glad that I am too shocked to cry because I am easy enough prey as it is, I don't need to break down on camera on top of that.

Silence falls when Effie Trinket unfolds the piece of paper holding the name of my fellow tribute and I don't even have time to hope it's not Rory when she already reads the name."Peeta Mellark!"

I'd be sad for him if I weren't so overwhelmed with my own fate. He's nice, like his dad, and will sometimes slip me an extra roll when I trade them my goat cheese. I never told Katniss because she says not to take anyone's charity, but I think it's nice that the Mellarks try to help us, even if it's only in a little way.

Peeta has made it halfway up the stairs, when a voice cuts through the silence, a voice filled with horror.

"NO! Prim!"

Katniss has finally arrived and she is running forward, towards me, Gale close behind."Prim! No! I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!"

Everyone stares at her, not sure what to do.

Then Effie Trinket clears her throat."It's too late. We already picked the male tribute. I'm sorry, but that's the rules."

To her credit, she actually does look sorry, but that might be because being the escort for a volunteer might have made things more interesting.

Katniss is screaming and fighting against Gale who had the good sense of restraining her before she tried to drag me off stage.

I force myself to turn away from my sister and instead focus on Peeta as I shake his hand like Effie tells us to.