This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's notes: This fic was written for The Quidditch Pitch's January 2008 Next Generation challenge. Thank you to the BeST team for the beta reading.

A Patronus for James

When James found out that they were going to be learning the Patronus Charm that year, he bragged that his would be a stag, just like Grandpa James' and Dad's, until Dad explained that a Patronus was always unique. He had only gotten Grandpa's stag because Grandpa was already dead. It was like Grandpa had come back to protect him, in a way. But Dad was still alive. His stag couldn't come and protect James.

He knew the story of how Grandma Lily's Patronus had been a doe, and had become Professor Snape's, after she had died. James hoped he wouldn't get the doe; it was so girly! If he couldn't have the stag, then he wanted a panther. Or an eagle. Hopefully those weren't taken yet. Mum's Patronus was a horse; knowing his luck, he'd probably end up with a fawn or a Shetland pony. How were they supposed to scare away Dementors?

However, after several weeks of practice and not being able to conjure anything more than a shapeless silvery blob, James thought he would be happy with that pony after all. Nearly everyone else in the class had managed it; Kieran had even gotten a panther. James hadn't spoken to him for a week after that, he'd been so jealous.

Think of a happy memory, their Defence professor had said. James had tried so many: birthdays, Quidditch victories, kissing girls…. And every time he'd felt that whoosh of joy skim down into his wand, only to have it crumble away into disappointment when the shimmering cloud remained just that: a cloud.

Now, home for the Christmas holidays, he was fighting back tears after several hours of fruitless practice next to the frozen marsh behind their house. He was out of happy memories; even the most promising ones now were tainted by failure.

He sniffled deeply and wiped his dripping nose on his sleeve. Maybe he was just being obsessive. It wasn't like he was likely to run into a Dementor. It was hard to believe that his parents had lived during Voldemort's reign of terror. Everything was so peaceful now. The sky over the marsh was tinged pink, and a late-migrating flock of ducks honked overhead. Life was pretty good. Just next to their house, Albus, Lily, and some of their Weasley cousins were playing in the snow their parents had Conjured for them, 'because it's not a proper Christmas without snow'.

And as he stood there, breathing in the musty, cold air and listening to their shrieks of laughter, he felt happy. Really happy. So happy he wanted to yell! And so he did.

"Expecto Patronum!" Out of his outstretched wand came a sizzling silver streak that whirled around and coalesced into a four-footed creature that bounded out across the frosty marsh, then wheeled and ran back, and James knew immediately who it was! He shouted out for joy, and he was certain that, had the Patronus had a voice, it would have barked back just as loudly.