Coriolanus Snow, a top-performing student at the Academy, is one of 24 selected as part of the mentor program, a new project for the 10th Hunger Games. The Snow family, however, has fallen upon hard times, once known for their wealth and prestige, but now struggling to keep up appearances. A strong performance in the mentor program will likely result in a prize that would allow him to attend the University, saving him from a menial job. Coriolanus worries about the shirt that he will wear to the reaping ceremony, saved only by his close cousin Tigris, who has an eye for fashion. He, however, soon discovers that he has much greater problems when he arrives at the Academy and hears Dean Casca Highbottom announce that he has been chosen to mentor the female tribute from District 12, traditionally one of the worst-performing districts.
In a sudden reversal, however, it appears that Coriolanus had actually been inadvertently given a gift. During her reaping, his tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, drops a snake down the dress of the daughter of District 12 Mayor Lipp, Mayfair. She then sings a song, charming Snow and everyone watching, before calling out "My friends call me Lucy Gray — I hope you will, too!" Her stunning performance makes Coriolanus the envy of all of his fellow students, causing him to reflect on an old saying between him and Tigris, that "Snow lands on top."
In a private conversation with Dean Highbottom, Coriolanus learns that Highbottom is well aware of his family's poverty, despite his best efforts to hide it. Furthermore, Highbottom seems to possess some sort of inexplicable grudge against him. Highbottom is regularly dosed up on morphling,b but nevertheless still has a certain sharpness about him. He decides to try to get a leg up on his competition by meeting his tribute on the train arriving in the Capitol. She does not seem too impressed with him at first, so he makes a more daring move by asking to accompany her to her quarters. This results in him being stuffed in a cargo car with the other tributes and then deposited at a cage in at the Capitol Zoo, which turns out to be the place where the tributes are being kept. His bold move endears him to Lucy Gray, whom he learns was not originally from District 12, but was part of a traveling group known as the Covey and got trapped in District 12 following the war. Afterwards, he is taken in to meet with Dr. Volumnia Gaul, who tells him that he is good at games and could one day be a Gamemaker. Dean Highbottom, however, gives him a demerit for his stunt, warning him that three will result in his expulsion.
Coriolanus continues to visit his tribute at the zoo and is joined by Sejanus Plinth. Plinth is originally from District 2, but his father secured his family a move to the Capitol, thanks to his wealth and influence. Plinth is troubled about the Hunger Games, feeling that if not for a twist of fate, he too could be one of the tributes in a zoo cage. He gives his tribute, Marcus, a sandwich and suggests trading him for Snow's, thinking he's doing Snow a favor, but Snow decides to keep his own tribute. Meanwhile, during a brainstorming session with the history professor Crispus Demigloss, Snow comes up with the idea of placing odds on the tributes. He continues to bond with his own tribute, her being one of the few who is willing to engage to any serious degree during an interview session. During a session afterwards, Sejanus expresses rebellious ideas, but Dr. Gaul is inspired by his sandwich move and comes up with the idea to let people send food into the arena as a way of getting them more involved.
Coriolanus returns again to the zoo and this time several of the other mentors have gotten the same idea. However, one of them, Arachne Crane, is killed when her tribute, Brandy, steals a knife for a sandwich and slits her throat. In response, Brandy is gunned down by Peacekeepers, making her the first tribute to die in the 10th Hunger Games before they have even begun. In the chaos, Snow is reminded of the days of the Rebellion. Having tried to save Arachne, and believed to be a close friend of her, he is tapped to be the chief mourner at her funeral. Before doing so, he and Clemensia Dovecote are called away by Dr. Gaul regarding Coriolanus's more fleshed-out proposal for a system of betting and sending food into the arena. Although they try to claim it is a joint effort, Dr. Gaul sniffs out the truth and punishes Clemensia for lying by letting her get bit by several snake muttations who did not sniff her scent on the papers for the proposal. Coriolanus is deeply troubled by the incident. Later, he returns to the zoo to find Lucy Gray starving and broken and becomes even more troubled about her potential fate. He talks with his favorite instructor, Satyria Click, who agrees to see what she can do, as "It's like telling you to do an experiment with broken equipment."
At Dovecote's funeral, Coriolanus sings the Panem anthem, "Gem of Panem," having learned it from his grandmother. During the funeral, the bullet-ridden body of Brandy is paraded by Peacekeepers, along with the other tributes. The mentors and tributes are then taken for a "tour" of the Capitol Arena, where Coriolanus again meets with Lucy Gray and learns that the tributes are now being fed better, as a couple of them had blacked out. As he chats with her, the world explodes around him. The arena has been bombed, and everything is chaos. Coriolanus recalls the horror of the war and realizes that as there are no hovercraft, these bombs must have been planted. He is trapped by debris, but he shouts and Lucy Gray rescues him. The news comes in that nobody is quite sure when the bombs were planted. The two tributes from District 6 were killed by shrapnel, as well as the mentors Apollo and Diana Ring. Coriolanus is hospitalized for his injuries, along with Androcles Anderson and Gaius Breen, the mentors of the District 9 tributes. The tributes from District 1 were shot dead trying to escape, while the female tribute from District 2 died in a fall. Sejanus's tribute, Marcus, disappeared completely.
Coriolanus is pleased to discover that Lucy Gray is okay, but wonders how he can repay her for how she saved his life. She tells him that he can start by thinking that she could actually win. They begin plotting ideas and meanwhile, Dr. Gaul sets the tributes an assignment to write an essay on everything attractive about war, everything that they loved about it. Over the next few days, Coriolanus preps for his tribute interview, which is hosted by Lucretius Flickerman of Capitol TV. Lucy wows the audience with her song, "The Ballad of Lucy Gray Baird." Overall, the interview goes great, but Coriolanus is less-than-satisfied with his paper about the war. When the class is asked to present their papers, Sejanus Plinth stirs even more trouble by saying that the districts are worse off than ever.
Coriolanus becomes troubled by everyone's assessment of his tribute, that though she puts on a good show, she has no chance of winning. He tells her that she'll win, that she has triple the gifts of anyone, and that he was jealous of her song because she was thinking of someone from her past. He gives her an old compact of his mother's as a token and she gives him a kiss, telling him that the only boy her heart has a sweet spot for is him. He also strongly hints that she should use it to smuggle the rat poison from the zoo.
The 10th Hunger Games
The day of the Hunger Games dawns with the news that the male tribute from District 5, Hy, has died, apparently due to complications from asthma. This now means that ten of the tributes are out of the running before the Games have even started. Getting more time on TV, Snow tries to play up the idea that Lucy Gray is actually more of a Capitol girl who only ended up in District 12 by circumstance. Back at the Academy, the mentors with tributes still in the games are given communicuffs, which they can use to send in gifts to their tributes, based on the sponsorship money that they have received. The Games begin and everyone's eyes are immediately drawn to Marcus, the boy who escaped during the bombing. He has been chained up on steel poles, bloodied and beaten. Seeing this, Sejanus smashes a chair into the image and runs out of the room, shouting that everyone there is a monster. The gong sounds to signal the start of the Games and all of the tributes scatter. About an hour later, Lamina emerges and takes out Marcus with an ax and her mentor, "Pup" Harrington, cheers at her getting the first kill. In response, she receives the first gift of the Games, a bottle of water.
Lamina's kill of Marcus is the only action for quite a long time and people begin to wonder about the slow start of the Games. Dr. Gaul appears and reminds everyone that the landscape of the Arena has changed with the bombings, providing the tributes with new places to hide. She promises that eventually the tributes will have to come out for food and that's when things will get interesting. That evening, Dill, the female tribute from District 11, dies from complications of tuberculosis. The tributes are sent home for the night, but the Snows receive a visit from Sejanus's mother, Mrs. Plinth, telling them that her son has gone missing. They try to get rid of her, but then she spots her son on the screen playing the Hunger Games, inside the arena. He puts bread crumbs on Marcus's body to send him on his journey into the afterlife. Just then, Dr. Gaul calls, ordering Coriolanus to come to the arena. Upon arrival, she orders him into the arena in order to rescue Sejanus. Sejanus tells him to let him die, thinking that he can make a statement, but Coriolanus warns him that his death will never be shown. The two escape, but Coriolanus has to kill one of the tributes, Bobbin, in the process. Afterwards, Dr. Gaul calls it a transformative opportunity, for him to have gotten a taste of what it was like in the arena.
That morning, Bobbin's death is glazed over and overshadowed by announcement by Strabo Plinth, Sejanus's father, of the creation of the Plinth Prize. The prize is a full ride to University for the mentor whose tribute wins the Hunger Games and Strabo claims that the idea came from his son. In the afternoon, Sol, the female tribute from District 5, emerges and is quickly killed by Mizzen, Coral and Tanner, who have formed a pack. Afterwards, both Lucy Gray and Jessup Diggs, the male tribute from District 12, emerge, but Jessup is foaming at the mouth, rabid. Remembering that rabies victims suffer from hydrophobia, Coriolanus moves to send in large amounts of water, but Jessup's own mentor, Lysistrata Vickers, does so instead, saying that if Jessup can't win, she at least wants a tribute from District 12 to win. Jessup ends up falling and dying, leaving only 10 tributes now still in the games. Back at home, Coriolanus learns that his family is on the verge of losing their home, with no way to pay a tax bill.
The next day, more alliances begin to form among the tributes, but there is otherwise little real action at first. Flickerman brings out his pet parrot, Jubilee, to entertain the crowd. That afternoon, the pack of Coral, Mizzen and Tanner confront Lamina, who has been hiding at the top of a pole. She manages to injure both Coral and Mizzen, but finally Coral stabs her with a trident, knocking her off the pole and causing her to die on impact. Back on the ground, the group celebrates, but then Coral drives another trident into Tanner's back and Mizzen finishes him off with a knife. That evening, Reaper Ash of District 11 ventures out, creating a makeshift morgue. The other mentors encourage his mentor, Clemensia Dovecote, to feed him, but she states that it could be a long Hunger Games and she's a good manager. That evening, Dr. Gaul tells Coriolanus that Gaius Breen, one of those injured in the bombings, has passed away. She promises repercussions, saying that it was his girl who gave her the idea, and he comes to the conclusion that she plans to let her snake muttations loose in the arena. Not wanting to lose Lucy Gray, he secretly drops a handkerchief bearing her scent into the snake tank. Afterwards, he worries if he has made a big mistake and crossed a line.
The next morning, Wovey, the female tribute from District 8, emerges after days of hiding. Her mentor, Hilarius Heavensbee, showers her with gifts, but she passes away, leaving only seven tributes remaining. Though everyone thinks she only perished from starvation and thirst, Coriolanus strongly suspects that she is a victim of poisoning by Lucy Gray. Reaper Ash comes out to collect her body, but does not scavenge her food, leaving it for District 4. Little of note occurs during the afternoon, but that evening Volumnia Gaul appears and announces the death of Gaius Breen. Then, just as Coriolanus suspected she would, she unleashes the snake mutattions upon the arena. Upon seeing the snakes, Treech of District 7 runs into the bleachers, but Circ of District 3 is too slow and is quickly killed. Teslee, also of District 3, climbs a pole to try to escape and Coral is set upon by dozens of snakes. Then, during the commotion, Lucy Gray Baird emerges from a tunnel and begins a chant, swaying in rhythm to the music. The snakes flock to her, creating a skirt of weaving reptiles, and then she sings a song to them, leaving them spellbound. Lucky tells Gaul to take a bow, but Coriolanus wonders whether she suspects anything. The remainder of the hour is devoted to remembrance of Gaius Breen.
With all of the day's action, there are now only five tributes remaining: Lucy Gray, Mizzen, Reaper Ash, Teslee and Treech. The tributes sleep at the Academy and the next morning, Teslee launches an attack with modified drones. The drones swarm Mizzen, repeatedly colliding with him and injuring him, before he falls and snaps his neck. Teslee's victory, however, is short-lived, as Treech leaps through the stands of the arena, taking down Teslee with an ax to the skull. Only three are now left. Lucy Gray emerges, seemingly trying to figure out who's left, when Treech comes out, trying to ax her. She flings herself into his arms, seeming to embrace him, and then Treech realizes what she has done, but it is too late. He pulls the pink snake from his neck and smashes it to the ground, but falls dead with the snake in his fist. Suddenly, it is down to only two. That afternoon, Lucy Gray taunts Reaper by moving the pieces of flag that he has been using to cover the tributes in his makeshift morgue. She manages to run him ragged until he drinks from a puddle that she has poisoned. He retches and collapses. It seems to be the end, but thirty minutes go by before Lucy Gray goes over and feels for a pulse, but finds nothing. At this, Lucretius Flickerman appears, announcing Lucy Gray and her mentor, Coriolanus Snow, the victors of the 10th Hunger Games. Snow is then directed to the high biology lab, where he is confronted by Dean Highbottom and the evidence against him, including his mother's compact and the handkerchief he dropped into the snake tank. Thus, Coriolanus Snow becomes Panem's newest Peacekeeper.
Coriolanus asks to be assigned to District 12. This surprises the officer he speaks with, as it's an uncommon request, but the request is readily granted. Back at the Academy, Highbottom had told him that while they had overlooked the feeding of the tributes for all of the mentors, his thievery of food and other actions couldn't be overlooked. He was all for exposing Coriolanus's actions, but Dr. Gaul suggested making him a martyr by presenting him bellowing out the anthem while he recuperated at the hospital. He then told Coriolanus that the Academy had the tradition of offering students a lifeline, giving him the alternative of avoiding public disgrace by joining the Peacekeepers. Before he left, Tigris told him that he would always be a Snow and they could never take that away from him. As he shipped out, he saw there was no coverage of the games whatsoever on television, as if both they and he were being erased.
Coriolanus arrives in District 12 and quickly meets his fellow recruits, including Junius, Smiley and Bog. He eats his first meal and bonds with Smiley, who designates him as "Gent" because of his manners and Junius as "Beanpole." He learns as a Peacekeeper he will be relatively well-fed and that most of his fellow Peacekeepers are actually from the districts. He quickly settles into a routine, and learns from a letter from Tigris that the family apartment is going on the market and that Pluribus can spare a couple of rooms if she and the Grandma'am don't find a place immediately. He despairs at his situation, and also at yet having had a chance to see Lucy Gray. He spirals into such a depression that he is considering suicide when he hears a familiar voice, that of Sejanus Plinth. Despite everything, he is thrilled to see him. Sejanus explains that his situation was similar to Coriolanus's, that he was on the verge of expulsion, but his father said that he would pay for a new gymansium for the Academy if they let him graduate and enroll in the Peacekeepers. Sejanus agreed, on the condition that Coriolanus be allowed to graduate also. He presents Coriolanus with a diploma, saying that he has graduated with "High Honors," meaning he can take the officer test for the Peacekeepers if he so desires.
That evening, it's announced that there's going to be a band at the Hob on Saturday and Coriolanus learns that Lucy will be performing. He realizes that it is his chance to finally see her, though he worries about how he can get in without a ticket. Fortunately, he and Sejanus receive a package of food from Ma Plinth, which they realize they can trade. Before the big day, however, Coriolanus and Sejanus are ordered to attend the hanging of a man who has been arrested for rebel activity, Arlo Chance. As his execution proceeds, a woman shouts his name, "Arlo! Arlo!" Before he is hung, the man shouts "Run, Lil! Run! Ru--!" and Snow is shocked to hear the call rebounding and echoing even after the man is dead, coming from birds in the trees that he identifies as jabberjays. The sound is then transformed into something melodic and one of the fellow Peacekepers explains that it is mockingjays. Coriolanus dislikes them on sight. The next day, he suggests to one of the sergeants the idea of creating a hunting party to rid the woods of them.
The time finally comes for the promised performance at the Hob. Lucy Gray appears and sings a lively song that has Coriolanus's toes tapping right away. He is pleased to see her happy and beautiful, but still worried that she might not be his girl. He continues listening to the songs, some strange to him, from another time, and filled with unfamiliar words. Then, she finally sees him and sings a song he knows is for him, "The Valley Song." The time comes for their reunion, but suddenly there is a disturbance, a dark-haired drunk man who is clearly Lucy Gray's spurned former lover, a man named Billy Taupe. The other members of the Covey order him away, telling him that he made his choice. The Peacekeepers try to send him away and it looks like it will come to a fight when the lights go on the Hob. Suddenly, everything is chaos and finally both Coriolanus and Sejanus end up being recruited to take the mayor's daughter, Mayfair Lipp, home. There, Coriolanus sees Billy Taupe, and wonders if he should reveal to the Covey that Taupe has run to the home of the mayor's daughter for solace.
The morning's breakfast brings the news that because of what happened the previous evening, no soldier may leave the base alone. Coriolanus despairs at the thought of not being able to see Lucy Gray, but Sejanus offers to accompany him to Lucy Gray's home, the Seam. Coriolanus manages to secure a bag to take some ice, as in the hot weather, the soldiers are allowed to take ice either for their drinks or to cool off. They travel to the Seam and from there, a girl of the Covey named Maude Ivory guides Coriolanus to Lucy Gray and her goat, Shamus. He finds her in a meadow, where she is singing a song, "The Hanging Tree." She tells him that he found her, that she hoped he would, but the odds didn't seem in her favor. She thanks him for the ice and, at his request, tells him more about what happened to her at the arena. In return, he tells her the truth about why she was able to charm the snakes. She says that they both saved each other and that it's written in the stars that they're together. She also tells him that Dean Highbottom gave her money on the quiet, apologizing for what she had been through, leading him to wonder why evil incarnate would help his girlfriend.
Lucy Gray takes him inside, hoping to introduce him to the rest of the Covey, but it turns out that Billy Taupe is back again. Furthermore, Sejanus Plinth is busy talking with him. Coriolanus studies the situation and tells them not to worry, that Sejanus will talk with anyone. Lucy Gray warns Billy to go away. He tells her that he didn't try to kill her and she shoots back that he's still running with the girl that did. He finally leaves, implying that Lucy plays with men's hearts, then breaks them. Lucy tells Coriolanus that this isn't true, even though it is part of her job to flirt. She didn't come back from the Capitol for more of the same and he tells her to make a new life with him. Coriolanus hopes to spend more time with her, but the Covey has to play for a wedding in town. They agree to meet the next Saturday and Coriolanus heads back with Sejanus. Along the way, Coriolanus gets out of Sejanus that he was talking with Billy Taupe about the girl arrested the other day at the hanging, Lil. She's been captured and locked up and he's agreed to try to get information about her. Coriolanus is shocked that he's still engaging in rebel activity, telling him that he's not thinking properly. Sejanus asks if he thinks he's committed treason and Coriolanus says that he hasn't quite yet. Sejanus then reveals that Dr. Gaul thought that he did, and so his father bought her off by paying for a new lab for her mutts. He agrees to be more careful in the future, saying also that Dr. Gaul told his father not to conflate his action's and Coriolanus's.
Back at base, Coriolanus writes a letter to Dr. Gaul, telling her that of the things he's seen in District 12 and reflecting on the balance between chaos and control. That evening, Sejanus helps him study for the officer candidate test, though he doesn't plan to take it himself. Coriolanus suggests that if he were an officer, they might let him train to be a doctor and help people. Sejanus agrees that he'll think it over. The next day, Coriolanus learns that his suggestion of shooting the birds has been approved, but first the Citadel wants 100 jabberjays and mockingjays trapped for study. Coriolanus is worried that Dr. Gaul will come to oversee the project personally, but instead a woman named Dr. Kay comes. The group gets on with the work of the project and Coriolanus takes the officer candidate test, happy at the thrill of the challenge. Meanwhile, he reflects that Sejanus will likely never really change, having refused to take the test himself. Getting a sneaking suspicion, he examines Sejanus's effects and discovers a large secret stash of money, thousands of dollars that couldn't be possiblly be needed in District 12. Then, he overhears the normally honest Sejanus saying that he is flat broke.
The project to round up the birds continues, Coriolanus Snow learning more about their history and how they work. He finds the mockingjays unnatural, but despite the group's best efforts, they capture 30 jabberjays but no mockingjays. He tells Lucy Gray about the project and she compares the way the Capitol controls the birds to torture. He replies that he's not sure if there's a human equivalent and she asks if he always feels free to speak his mind. He replies that that you should always say what you think and she tells him that her father thought the same thing and ended up filled with bullet holes. The Covey then takes the stage and Coriolanus listens to a song performed by Maude Ivory, "Lucy Gray," which reveals the origins of Lucy Gray's name. Coriolanus, however, finds the song ridiculous and tries to consult Sejanus about it, only to find him gone. Although he quickly locates him, Coriolanus begins to worry that he must no longer let him out of his sight. The next day, he talks with Lucy Gray about the Hunger Games. She asks if he thinks they're right and he admits he's not even sure why they do them, but says that he thinks people are forgetting the war too fast. She replies that her family and the Covey got broken up because of the Capitol. She feels her freedom is worth the risk and she tells him that she thinks he's like them and wants to think for himself.
Clerk Carmine brings Lucy Gray some katniss, though it's not ready for eating yet. Coriolanus learns that each member of the Covey gets their name from a ballad and from a color, Lucy Gray being special because she got her whole name from her ballad. Lucy Gray then performs the song "Deep in the Meadow," which soothes Coriolanus until the melody is picked up by the mockingjays in the forest. He learns that Billy Taupe is wheedling Lucy Gray, trying to convince her to go north with him to find free people. Though she tells Coriolanus that she trusts him, he is disturbed by the developments. The project to collect the birds continues and they are finally able to capture mockingjays using mist nets. Then, Sejanus Plinth pulls Coriolanus aside. Suspecting a confession, he surreptitiously sets one of the jabberjays to record Sejanus. Sejanus then reveals that he is planning to help some of the rebels to leave District 12 for good by heading north. They need him to help free Lil to come with them. He plans to bust Lil out of the interrogation room and seems to think he has a foolproof plan. He is also buying illegal guns for the rebels. Coriolanus tries to talk him out of it, but he's determined. So Coriolanus wishes him good luck, but secretly sends the jabberjay with Sejanus's treasonous words to Dr. Gaul.
Afterwards, Coriolanus is guilt-ridden, worried that he may have gotten Sejanus in real trouble, but he comforts himself that it's very possible that the recording may never even be heard. He worries, however, about what Lucy Gray might think of him if she knew what he had done to Sejanus. He resolves to try to throttle some sense into Sejanus, but finds no opportunity, and worse receives a letter from Tigris of the family's ever darkening financial situation. That evening, after a mournful ballad by the Covey, Coriolanus discovers Sejanus Plinth meeting with Billy Taupe. A shotgun is thrust towards his rib cage, when Lucy Gray appears and defuses the situation, claiming that she's going north with Billy. Another man, Spruce, asks if she and Coriolanus Snow aren't together. She replies that Coriolanus is seeing her cousin, Barb Azure, and Coriolanus decides to play again, thinking that maybe Lucy is lying to defuse the situation. Then, Mayfair Lipp walks in on the scene. Billy Taupe tells her to go home, that he'll explain things to her later. Spruce, however, suggests that she join them, saying that they don't have any quarrel with her, only her father.
Mayfair Lipp makes to flee and Spruce aims to shoot her, but Billy Taupe knocks the weapon to the ground. Coriolanus then shoots in Mayfair's direction and she collapses. Coriolanus shouts at Lucy Gray to back onstage for an alibi, but Billly charges, saying that if he swings, she does, so Spruce shoots him through the chest. Spruce then tells Lucy Gray to go before someone comes looking and Coriolanus promises to take care of it. They all promise to keep it quiet, though Spruce suggests that Coriolanus might want to think about coming with them. Coriolanus and Sejanus return to base and as things progress, Coriolanus begins to relax, sure that there is nothing that can tie him to the crime, and that he can get Sejanus to give up the escape plan. However, Tuesday evening, Spruce is brought in a stretcher. The next morning, Sejanus is arrested. He is quickly executed for treason, the jabberjays calling out his last word: "Ma!"
Coriolanus becomes convinced that it will now only be a matter of time until he is arrested too, worried over the rifle with his DNA. He decides to face death like a man and is relieved when the aide of the local Peacekeeper commander, Commander Hoff, comes to get him that evening. At the office, the commander makes polite chatter and he worries is being toyed with, until the commander instead thanks him for his sacrifice, given that he was close friends with Sejanus Plinth. He says that Dr. Gaul got the jabberjay and asks about guns, if perhaps Sejanus bought them from the black market. In the end, he tells Coriolanus that he did a real service for his country and tells Coriolanus that it's his birthday today and to enjoy the party. Coriolanus celebrates by blasting some mockingjays and that evening, listens to Lucy Gray singing a new song she wrote about him. Afterwards, she tells him that the mayor believes that it was her that killed both Mayfair and Billy Taupe and that she's going to run away up north. She tells him she's glad she got to tell him good-bye, but he replies that he's going with her. She says that he'd be risking his life, but he replies that it's only a matter of time until they find the guns and connect him to Mayfair's murder. They agree to meet the next day at dawn.
That morning, Coriolanus prepares to meet Lucy, when he is intercepted and told that he's wanted in the commander's office. He fears that he has been caught when is finally on the verge of freedom, but when he reaches Commander Hoff, the commander tells him that he leaves for officers' school the next day. He's the youngest person ever to pass the test and his scores have recommended him for an elite program in District 2. Snow is bitter at the irony of it, that he has a second chance which has been stripped away by the fact that there is a murder weapon with his name on it. He steels himself and goes to find Lucy Gray. He asks her about the Covey, but she tells him that she's wearing out her welcome and that the commander told her to not sing "The Hanging Tree" again, as it's too dark. They set off, Lucy saying that she'll miss her music and her birds and Coriolanus saying that he won't miss people, that for the most part, they're awful. He lets slip a comment about having killed three people that summer, referencing Sejanus, but not wanting to admit it directly. When she confronts him on it, he tells her that he killed the old him so that he could come with her.
They take shelter in an old shack and there, Coriolanus is stunned to discover a bag containing weapons, including the weapon containing his own DNA. He asks Lucy if they should take them and she says that she doesn't trust them, telling him that she's going to go and dig up some katniss. With her gone, Coriolanus hatches a new plan. He can destroy the gun, and there will be nothing tying him to the crime. He loves Lucy Gray, but he can't stand the thought the life in the wilderness. He wonders how Lucy Gray will react, knowing that she's no lamb. He goes out to find her and he realizes that she's hiding from him. He can think of only one reason: that she's figured out the truth of his wanting to run away, and worse, that he had betrayed Sejanus. He shouts for her, saying that he just wants to talk, but gets no reply. He searches for her in the forest and finds an orange scarf, then is bit by a snake. He is shocked that Lucy Gray has apparently tried to kill him and does not know what to do, not having had survival training yet. He speaks to again, telling her it's not too late to work something out, and in response, she sings a stanza from "The Hanging Tree." As the mockingjays pick up the song, he fires all around the woods, but cannot tell if he has hit her.
As it starts to storm, he tramps to the lake and begins a desperate flight back to the Peacekeeper base. He makes it back to District 12, where his story of a snake appearing out of nowhere to bite him is not questioned, as the rain brings out the snakes. He asks a doctor if he's going to die, but is told that the snake wasn't even venomous and the bite will only leave a scar. The next day, he boards the hovercraft for District 2. Before they arrive, however, the craft stops off in the Capitol, where an attendant tells him that they have orders to drop him there. His destination is the Citadel, where, to his dismay, he is met by Dr. Gaul. She tells him that she's pleased that he continued his studies in District 12 and he tells her that he's learned that they are creatures who need the Capitol to survive. She reveals that she's erased all copies of the 10th Hunger Games, except for one she kept for her own personal amusement. She then calls his experience in District 12 a "vacation," saying that she didn't invest all that time in him to hand him off to the district imbeciles. She's ordered him an honorable discharge and he's to study under her at the University.
Snow quickly settles into life at the University, attending honors classes under Dr. Gaul and basking him the status given to him by his brief stint as a Peacekeeper. He takes on a role as an apprentice Gamemaker, where he quickly proposes new ideas, such as the Victor's Village and giving everyone in the winning district a parcel of food. Furthermore, he has become the heir to the Plinths, who purchased the Snow family apartment so that they wouldn't have to move. The Plinths now pay for everything in his life and give him a generous allowance, completely unaware of his role in their son's death. He pays a visit to the Academy, where he recovers his mother's compact. There, he learns from Dean Highbottom the truth of the creation of the Hunger Games. Dean Highbottom and Snow's father were both students at the University and attended Dr. Gaul's biology class. The final project was create a punishment for one's enemies so extreme that they would never be allowed to forget how they had wronged you. He had always been good at puzzles and was drunk at the time, giving in to his evilest impulse. Crassus Snow plied him with alcohol as he fleshed it out, assuring him that it was only a private joke between them. He awoke the next morning, horrified, only to discover that Crassus had turned in the project to Dr. Gaul, wanting a good grade. After the war, Dr. Gaul pulled out the proposal, introducing him as the architect of the Hunger Games.
Coriolanus tells him that the whole thing supports Dr. Gaul's view of humanity, that even the most innocent can be turned into killers. Highbottom asks him if Lucy Gray was sad to see him go. Coriolanus brushes it off, saying that they were both a little sad, and takes his leave. He reflects that back in District 12, everyone thinks that the mayor killed Lucy Gray. There's also a new commander of the Peacekeepers, who outlawed shows at the Hob. As Coriolanus heads home, he muses that Lucy Gray and her mockingjays can never harm him again. He imagines marrying someone he hates, like fellow mentor Livia Cardew, someone that can never manipulate him, and he'll continue the Games when he rules Panem. He smiles at his act of revenge - secretly obtaining rat poison and using it to poison Highbottom's morphling. He hopes that Highbottom will realize with his last breath what everyone someday will: that "Snow lands on top."