A Race Against Time

Chapter 1:

Harry Potter swept down the sterile white halls of St. Mungos with an air of authority and imperativeness that made everyone in his path hastily jump out of his way. The powerful Head Auror radiated magical energy and it thrummed so strongly that those nearby could feel it washing over them as he passed. When he opened the door to room 318, though, his stoic façade immediately morphed into one of deep-seeded worry with an edge of desperate hope.

"You know what's wrong with him?" he anxiously asked the gorgeous young blond Healer who was stationed at his eldest son's bedside.

"Yes, Uncle Harry. We've finally been able to get a diagnosis," Victorie Lupin (nee Weasley) confirmed with the slightest of wavers darkening her soprano voice.

"I tried to bribe her into telling me what it was before you and Mum arrived, but the damn girl's incorruptible," James Sirius Potter joked lightly from his position in the hospital bed. He gave his father a small smile, obviously trying to lighten the mood as the boy was wont to do in almost every situation, but the smile lacked its usual mischievousness. Despite his best efforts to put on a brave face, the notorious joker looked pale, run-down, and more than a little nervous.

James had been in hospital for just over a week now, being poked and prodded by every Specialist Healer this side of the Atlantic it seemed. The young man personally thought everyone was overreacting; sure, he'd been feeling off-kilter for a little over two months now, but it wasn't anything serious. So he felt more lethargic than usual, seemed to be a bit weaker than normal, and had odd stabs of pain through his muscles once in a while. He was probably just pushing himself too hard at work. After all, being a professional Chaser was no flight in the park. It required hours of training, conditioning, and obligatory pub-hopping after each victory. Particularly considering that James was the star Chaser on the Chudley Cannons, of all teams.

The Cannons weren't the abysmal laughing stock that they had been when he was a child, but that was mostly thanks to James. Although James tended not to brag (much) thanks to his father instilling him with a sense of modesty and always making him work for what he wanted, the fact was that James Sirius Potter was the most sought-after Chaser in the league. In his seventh year at Hogwarts, the boy had been recruited by every team in the British League. It wasn't too surprising considering that James had shattered every Hogwarts record for scoring, even managing 21 goals on his own in the final game of his sixth year versus Ravenclaw, allowing Gryffindor to win the game, and the House Cup, despite the Ravenclaw Seeker getting the snitch. After that, James could have his pick of pro teams.

He shocked everyone by choosing the Cannons, despite the fact that their salary offer was the lowest, and they were the last place team that year. James had said that he wanted a challenge and the chance to really push himself as a player, which was true, but a large part of his controversial decision had also been his lifelong fandom of the underdogs. He could remember countless days from his childhood sitting in the big comfy chair by the fireplace with his Uncle Ron, listening to the Cannons games on the Wizarding Wireless, and going to a few games in person with him. Thanks to these happy memories, the Cannons were cemented as one of his two favorite teams. The other one was, of course, the Harpies, but since he couldn't play for the all-girl team his Mum was on, he grew up dreaming of being a Cannon.

Said Mum chose that moment to burst through the door, shattering James' musings on his condition and its causes. "Oh, baby, I'm so sorry it took me so long to get here," Ginny Potter fretted as she immediately enveloped her eldest son's face in her hands and began kissing his forehead and cheeks as if she hadn't seen him in 12 years instead of 12 hours.

"Mu-um!" James whined as his cousin sniggered at him and his father tried to hide his amused smile.

Ginny backed off after a final smacking kiss, retreating to her husband's side and gripping his hand tightly. "So, Victorie, what is it?" she asked anxiously.

"Well," the Healer began carefully, "it appears to be a curse."

"A curse? When did you get cursed? Why didn't you say anything?" Ginny asked James rapid fire. "What do we have to do to reverse it?" she turned to ask Victorie.

"I-I don't know. Is it possible to be cursed without realizing it?" James asked Victorie.

"Sometimes, but it's very rare," Harry chimed in, knowing thanks to his work with the Aurors.

"Correct," Victorie confirmed. "But that doesn't seem to be the case here. You, uh, you guys might want to sit," she said hesitantly.

Ginny's face drained of blood at the suggestion, knowing it wasn't a good sign. "Oh Merlin," she gasped as she slowly sat in the chair next to the hospital bed, "what is it?"

Harry chose not to sit, feeling more in control in an offensive position, but he did move next to James, gripping his shoulder securely. The boy raised his chocolate brown eyes to meet his father's emerald green ones, silently thanking him for the support.

"James," Victorie began, "it appears that you are suffering from a bloodline curse."

Harry inhaled sharply but Ginny and James just looked confused.

"What's a bloodline curse?" James asked.

"It's a class of curses that affect all the members of a particular bloodline. It is passed down genetically. That's why you don't recall being cursed; it most likely wasn't you who was actually cursed."

Harry and Ginny turned to one another with a knowing look. "It was me, wasn't it?" Harry asked despondently.

"We'll have to do a few tests to know for sure, but given your history and the fact that you didn't show any symptoms at your time of magical maturity, that is the suspicion," his niece said apologetically.

"Magical maturity?" James inquired.

"Yes; every wizard and witch has an age of magical maturity, similar to the legal age of maturity. The difference is that it isn't a set age. It varies a bit for everyone, just like physical puberty does. Once a wizard or witch goes through it, though, they have reached their full magical capacity. They can still learn new things and expand their skills, but it terms of raw power, it all peaks at magical maturity," she explained. "In this case, it also appears to be the trigger for this particular bloodline curse."

"What particular curse is it, Torie?" Ginny asked.

"The curse specialist from Macedonia identified it as the Tabesco Hereditatis curse."

"I've never heard of that one," Harry stated in surprise. After so many years as an Auror, he thought he knew almost every curse out there.

"That's not surprising," Victorie replied. "It's a very old curse that hasn't been seen in nearly 400 years. It was originally developed as a means to…dissuade…heirs from marrying or, uh, fooling around, with those deemed 'undesirable' by their parents. In this case, we think someone used it to punish you, Uncle Harry. It's no secret that your family means everything to you, so the person who cast this probably figured a curse affecting your kids would hurt you more than one affecting you."

"What does it do?" Harry asked breathlessly, not entirely sure if he wanted to know. Ginny grabbed his hand and gripped it so tightly it started to throb.

"It…it," she stuttered as her eyes grew watery, "it activates at magical maturity and slowly wastes the progeny away."

"W-wastes them away?" Ginny asked in capped terror.

"It causes the person to r-r-rot from th-the inside," she sobbed, having completely lost her professional composure. "Oh, James! I'm so sorry!" she cried as she threw herself over him and enveloped the stunned young man in a hug.

Ginny was also sobbing, burying her face in Harry's shoulder as the Man-Who-Defeated-Voldemort stood stock still, struck in abject horror.

'This can't be happening. Not my boy. I thought all of the darkness and despair was done with! We lost so many people already; haven't we suffered enough? Why God, why do you keep taking everyone I love?' Harry raged in his head. He broke away from his own thoughts when Ginny pulled away from him and threw herself on her eldest son, embracing every inch of him that Victorie had left exposed. The three people on the bed were all shaking with their cries, but surprisingly, it was James who composed himself first. With a loud sniff he sat up as much as he could under the weight of his mum and cousin and wiped his eyes, stifling any further tears.

Victorie backed off of him so that he could move and Ginny slid to his side, though she refused to release him from her tight hug. "Okay, so how do we beat this thing?" he asked resolutely, a determined fire burning in his red, puffy eyes.