Neville Longbottom put the Sorting Hat upon his head. As the darkness closed out the sight of other students, he was almost grateful. This wasn’t so very hard. First Years before him had only barely touched this hat before it spoke. Neville wondered how it was done, this test – was it controlled by the professors – the parents?
‘What’s this, oh – you’ve got a very clever mind, hiding in plain sight! A pureblood too, I don’t see that kind of subtlety every century.’ Hidden beneath the brim of the Sorting Hat, Neville’s eyes went wide with shock.
‘You, my boy, will be a challenge!’ The Sorting Hat sounded delighted, and Neville was anything but. He felt the Sorting Hat slip down further, against the bridge of his nose.
‘You would do well in Slytherin…’ it wasn’t praising him, Neville realized, but testing him. This was one test he had to pass. Neville shook his head, and the hat slid further down to rest against the rise of his lips.
‘Not Slytherin!’ Neville though in protest, but the Sorting Hat seemed pleased. His fingers clenched against the stool he sat upon.
‘Oh, truly? Hmmm, you purebloods are all so muddled; mixing the bloodlines was what Slytherin was against – but no one really understood that than…’
‘Not Slytherin!’ Neville mouthed the words silently, urging the Sorting Hat to understand.
‘You are too cunning to go to Ravenclaw, do be reasonable…’ The Sorting Hat sounded as if it was trying to convince him! Neville felt the Sorting Hat slip down to his chin, breathing in the musty leather cloth, he panicked and tried to pull it off, struggling to yank it away – it was going to smother him!
‘Not yet, not yet – why, you haven’t even been sorted yet!’ The Sorting Hat wasn’t letting go.
Neville shouted in protest though only the Sorting Hat would hear, muffling his words to all the rest.
‘Oh, very well…’ The Sorting Hat sounded disappointed in him.
“Gryffindor!” Neville Longbottom went quickly to the Gryffindor table, not where he was supposed to be – but where he wanted to be, where he hoped he would be needed. He tried to put that sucking sensation that the Sorting Hat had given him, like slime upon his mind.
It was than; amongst laughter that Neville realized he was still wearing the Sorting Hat. Its amusement clung to him even as he gave it to the next boy, even as he wanted to fling the ratty old hat onto the stool, feeling cold and alone, but free.
He checked his pocket for Trevor, his toad, finding him warmly nestled there – yet he still felt as if he was missing something. It was a feeling he tried to forget while watching the rest of the sorting of First Years.
“Potter, Harry!” Professor McGonagall called out, and Neville could see she tried to keep her smiles to herself.
It became clear what he was missing out on - when Harry Potter put the Sorting Hat on his head, and was swallowed up, the Sorting Hat sitting innocently upon its stool – as if it hadn’t done what the entire Great Hall had seen. No other First Year, having seen that, wanted to be sorted by the Sorting Hat.
“Sorting will commence tomorrow morning.” Albus Dumbledore, with a frown upon his lips, took up the Sorting Hat and left the Great Hall. The unsorted First Years huddled together, wide eyed, in their black robes they looked like a flock of ravens.
“He’ll get him back…” Hermione Ganger didn’t sound so sure.
One thing was sure, however the First Years were sorted, none of them looked like they would trust to put on the Sorting Hat.
“Has this ever happened before?” Neville asked, shakily, remembering the sucking sensation, and the words of the Sorting Hat.
A red haired boy shook his head solemnly.
Neville didn’t dare ask if anyone else had spoken to the Sorting Hat, he thought he had his answer without asking – Harry Potter had, but to the rest of them, the Sorting Hat was only a way to be sorted. It wasn’t supposed to be anything else – but it was…and Neville had to find out what.
Neville Longbottom had to go to the Headmaster’s office. He swallowed nervously, and didn’t let himself thing of his grandmother, what she would do or say, he ran his finger along Trevor’s back for luck, and let the panic that had been rolling and boiling and building break.
“I thought I felt it sucking on my skull, did you….?” He asked of Hermione Ganger, who stared about them wide eyed and shook her head.
“S-sucking you up..?” Another boy, three seats away spoke up.
His words caught like wild fire, and for the first time during the sorting of First Years in the history of Hogwarts, there was a riot of panic.
Neville Longbottom wasn’t particularly proud of that, but it was done for the greater good.
“Mr. Longbottom, the Headmaster will see you now.” Professor McGonagall told him, patting him on the shoulder and speaking the password (“Candy corn.”) to let him get into the Headmaster’s office. Neville Longbottom stepped resolutely forward.
“Ah, Mr. Longbottom, I understand that after I left you caused something of a disturbance in the Great Hall?” Albus Dumbledore spoke from his desk, not looking up from where he studied the Sorting Hat upon it.
“Yes, sir – a riot….” Neville had never seen reason to lie, and he wouldn’t start now – not when it was so important.
“Why was that?” The Headmaster asked, as if Neville had done it deliberately - which he had.
“I couldn’t think of another way to get in here and see you.” Neville admitted, for if he spoke the truth from the start – why start lying now? For all that he knew, the Headmaster had some sort of truth-or-lie device.
“Oh, did it occur to you to perhaps ask?” The Headmaster let nothing but curiosity color his words, not rebuke, but Neville knew it was there.
“It would not have gotten me in to see you soon enough.” Neville admitted, unflinching.
“What is it, Mr. Longbottom that you think so important to tell me that you start a riot on your first day of being a First Year?” Neville met those blue eyes, and told the truth.
“The Sorting Hat, sir – it spoke to me before my sorting into Gryffindor.” Heard aloud, Neville knew, it sounded no better than the mutterings of madness. He had heard more than his fair share of madness from his mother and father, and knew.
“And what did it say?” Neville knew now that he had the Headmaster’s whole attention.
“It’s not what it said, Headmaster – it’s what it was trying to make me say. I think if I would have said “Not Slytherin” thrice, I would be where Harry Potter is.” Dumbledore tapped his wand against the Sorting Hat as if to wake it.
“Where is Harry Potter, Sorting Hat?” The Headmaster demanded with a frown. It was clearly a question he had been asking more than once, and often.
“Not here, Albus.” The Sorting Hat, speaking aloud, was somehow more menacing than speaking within his mind. It was an answer that Albus Dumbledore had been getting for as long a time as he had been asking where.
“Your pardon, Headmaster, that’s the wrong question.” Neville didn’t dare look the Headmaster in the eyes as he approached to put his hand upon the Sorting Hat.
“Hello there, Neville Longbottom…” Where the Sorting Hat had sounded long suffering when dealing with the Headmaster, it sounded downright delighted at the touch of the First Year it had sorted.
“You were testing me before.” Neville had guessed, and the Sorting Hat grinned, gapping and black.
“Quite right and you still may pass.” The Sorting Hat admitted, hopeful.
“Whose voice do you have?” Neville asked, knowing he had to make the Headmaster see.
“Why, Godric Gryffindor my boy.” Neville looked up to see the Headmaster, frowning and sitting very still. It was a question that Albus Dumbledore had never asked – and likely would not have gotten an answer if he had.
“It isn’t where Harry Potter is, is it? It’s when…” Neville trailed off, for the Sorting Hat laughed, the split of his grin turning into a ripping smile.
“Oh, yes, yes, when – not where, when, you too can pass…speak up, boy- you know the words!” The Sorting Hat winked up at him. Neville fondly patted it.
“There is no way to get Harry Potter back to this time and place, is there?” Neville asked, knowing it was true.
“Quite right, this is only a one way pass.” Harry Potter would come back when – and if – he wanted to. Neville felt a longing in him, the Sorting Hat had sorted every wizard and witch that went though Hogwarts, so he knew, there had to be a reason that Harry Potter and Neville had had this chance – but no others had. It was because they did not quite fit – Neville knew, he had learned that while painfully growing up, sometimes literally in pain.
“Why can I not get Harry Potter back – or go through?” Albus Dumbledore demanded, his wand clenched in the grip of his fingers.
“You are not of Godric Gryffindor’s kin, you do not need him.” Neville closed his eyes, so Albus would not guess what he would do.
“I do.” Neville told the Sorting Hat with the voice of Godric Gryffindor – told too the Headmaster. He took the hat up, ratty and flighty, and put it upon his head. Thinking a thing is yet quicker than magic or any action. There was no way that he could be stopped.
‘Not Slytherin. Not Slytherin. Not Slytherin!’ The thoughts full of pain and longing.
Neville Longbottom was swallowed, was swimming in the dark – and he opened his eyes only when he heard words – the Sorting Hat’s voice, familiar, but warm and human in a way the Sorting Hat could not be.
“Hello there.” Godric Gryffindor stood in front of him, with Harry Potter smiling at his side.
This was home, this was their Hogwarts.