Neville pulled the hat out of his pocket. He'd forgotten it was there. It looked even worse than when he'd seen it his first day at Hogwarts. Black with soot, marked with burns and smelling of smoke, new outrages were added to the decay of previous centuries.
"Thank you for releasing me from that prison of a pocket."
The hat reminded Neville of Trevor, a creature Neville kept cooped up too long, who sought release and freedom.
"Oh, don't worry. You had to put me somewhere and I'm grateful you rescued me from that crowd." Small clouds of soot wafted from a rip at the brim of the Hat as it spoke. With each word they formed and dissipated. "I must say, I'm very glad you're a Gryffindor. A Hufflepuff couldn't have gained the sword. A Hufflepuff would have called for help, but I couldn't have sent any." The Hat paused. "I'd have wanted to, but I couldn't have. The magic wouldn't allow it."
"If I'd been a Hufflepuff and I'd acted the same way, you wouldn't have given me the sword?"
"Exactly, only a true Gryffindor can take the sword from me."
"That's not fair."
"No, it isn't. But magic isn't fair, and to be candid neither is life, at least not the way humans think of fairness, but you knew that already. Of course, if you'd wanted the sword to stab Tom Riddle in the back, I couldn't have given it to you. The sword expects chivalry from a true Gryffindor. It has a strong preference for Gryffindor qualities, while I, unbiased object that I am, respect all four houses equally."
Neville caught the gratifying words true Gryffindor. "Please, why did you name me a Gryffindor instead of a Hufflepuff?" he asked.
The hat knew that at eleven the boy had wanted to be a Gryffindor, like his parents, which had surprised the hat. He'd have thought the boy would fear being like that pair.
"Because that's what you are."