Spoilers follow, and this is from the books (not the movies)...

In The Chamber of Secrets:

Harry retrieves Goderic Gryffindor's sword from the sorting hat during the confrontation with the basilisk. After this Dumbledore keeps hold of the sword in a glass case in his office.

Then in The Deathly Hallows:

Harry and Ron do a deal with Griphook to return Gryffindor's sword to the goblins after they have retrieved Hufflepuff's cup, planning to partially double cross him by holding on to it until all the horcruxes have been destroyed. However Griphook double crosses them first, and keeps hold of the sword.

Then, in the battle at the end of the book:

Voldemort puts the sorting hat on Neville Longbottom's head and sets him on fire. Instead of burning Neville pulls Gryffindor's sword out of the sorting hat and beheads Nagini, destroying Voldemort's last horcrux.

However, if the sword could always be pulled out of the hat by someone sufficiently heroic then why the need to:

Create a copy of the sword to fool Bellatrix Lestrange into thinking she had the real one in Gringott's vault? Why forge a copy and risk Snape placing it in the lake if it could always have been pulled from the sorting hat, regardless of where it was or how it was protected?

How was Gryffindor's sword pulled from the hat the second time? Surely it was beyond the reach of accio or any other charms once returned to its goblin creators?

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    Spoilers probably aren't necessary, but I'll let you decide whether you want to keep them. The books and movies have been around long enough now that there's a reasonable expectation that any visitors will already be familiar with the plot. – Anthony Grist Apr 8 '13 at 11:43
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    I think using the spoiler tag is courteous and it certainly doesn't harm anyone or the question being asked. I don't usually use it myself (I have on occasion), but it's not wrong, I don't think, and it doesn't bother me personally. :) – Slytherincess Apr 8 '13 at 13:06
  • @Keith - can you explain what you mean by "once returned to its creators"? To whom are you referring? – Slytherincess Apr 8 '13 at 13:13
  • Wasn't the sorting hat kept in Dumbledore's office too? Was it possible that someone put the sword into the hat at some point before the battle? – phantom42 Apr 8 '13 at 13:14
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    I always assumed there was no requirement for the sword to actually be anywhere near to the Sorting Hat for it to be pulled out by a true Gryffindor, sort of like the way that magicians pull rabbits out of hats (OK, we all know the rabbit is inside the hat, but the idea is that it's empty). Basically conjuring it out of thin air. – Anthony Grist Apr 8 '13 at 14:21

In Chamber of Secrets, page 320, chapter 17:

A gleaming silver sword had APPEARED inside the hat...

Also in CoS, page 334, chapter 18:

"Only a true Gryffindor could have PULLED that out of the hat, Harry" (Dumbledore to Harry)

In Deathly Hallows, page 689, chapter 23:

"Now, Severus, the sword! Do not forget that it must be taken under conditions of NEED and VALOR..."

(The emphasis is mine)

The short answer is that the magic of the sword and the hat worked together to provide the sword to Neville.

It appeared to him since Neville fulfilled all the qualities necessary for the sword to appear in the Sorting Hat:

  • true Gryffindor: Sorting Hat put Neville in the house
  • need: Neville needed to kill Nagini
  • valor: definition of valor is "strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness" (Merriam-Webster.com) and I think Neville demonstrated that numerous times
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    This answers the "why" but not the "how". Mind you, I don't think "how" has a canon answer. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 8 '13 at 14:09
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    @DVK - canon answer to "how" would be "magic". – Compro01 Apr 8 '13 at 14:59
  • I figured something like that - Neville is a true Gryffindor, just as Harry was in CoS. However at the start of CoS the sword's location is unknown (I always figured it was somehow in the hat), while at the start of DH there needs to be a forged copy. – Keith Apr 8 '13 at 15:01

This was a special ability of the Sorting Hat

The Sorting Hat has another ability, which has rarely been revealed to anyone at Hogwarts. It is a magical portal, by which another of Godric Gryffindor’s possessions may be accessed: the sword of Gryffindor. This sword was enchanted by Godric to appear whenever a member of his house asks for help while wearing the Hat. Twice, in the course of the Harry Potter series, the sword is transported from a temporary owner to aid a Gryffindor who needs a weapon.
Pottermore - The Sorting Hat (behind paywall)

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Because in the long history of Wizards vs. Goblins...screw goblins! It doesn't matter if a goblin made the blade, it doesn't matter if a goblin has possession of the sword, a wizard wants it, so who cares what a non-wizard wants? It obviously vanished from Griphook's presence and came to Neville because of a magical effect most likely put there by Gryffindor himself.

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  • Welcome to SFFSE! Do you have any evidence to support your claim about this magical effect? Please cite material which supports your claims – Often Right Jul 4 '15 at 5:37

Perhaps the Sorting Hat is the sheath for the Sword of Gryffindor, like how in 'Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief',

the backpack Ares gave Percy was the sheath for Zeus's Master Bolt.

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