It was fine back home, once the police had gone. Even Aunt Tabby was nice to us, and Uncle Drac was so happy to see us he just couldn't stop smiling. Aunt Tabby brought in some hot chocolate and everybody sat in the broom closet while Wanda and I told them what had happened. When we got to the bit about the water com- ing into the grotto, it went very quiet--then CLANK!

    Sir Horace lurched out from under- neath the pile of coats and everyone yelled in surprise. At the same time the clock in the hall struck midnight. Brenda's cat shot out of the room, and we didn't see it again for a week. I could tell that Sir Horace was about to start on a long lecture about how we should never have gone down the secret tunnel, how dangerous the grotto was, and generally bor- ing stuff like that--which I knew we would be hearing from Aunt Tabby for months any- way--so I shouted out, "Happy early five- hundredth birthday!" and everyone looked at me like I'd gone crazy. "Well, it is almost his birthday, " I told them. "And he's five hundred years old tomorrow. Aren't you, Sir Horace?"

    "Yes, unfortunately, " Sir Horace boomed. He didn't sound very pleased about it. I didn't know why, because I always love my birthdays. "Five hundred is very old, " said Wanda, trying to cheer him up. "You must be so excited, Sir Horace. " "Not really, " he replied gloomily. "Five hundred is indeed very old, Miss Wizzard. It seems so much older than four hundred and ninety-nine. " Well, they both sounded pretty old to me, but I didn't say so. Instead I dragged the sword in and said, "Here's your present, Sir Horace. I'm sorry we didn't have time to wrap it up. Happy Birthday!" Sir Horace took the sword. He didn't say anything at all. He just held on to it really tightly.

    "Don't you like it?" Wanda asked, after a few minutes of everyone waiting for Sir Horace to say something. "I have always liked this sword, " he said in a peculiar voice. "What does he mean-- `always'?" Wanda whispered to me. "He just got it. " Sir Horace made a kind of gulping noise and car- ried on, "My dear father gave this sword to me on my twenty-first birthday. And you have returned it to me on my five-hundredth birthday. Thank you. . . . " I was disappointed. It's not a proper birth- day present if you give someone something that already belongs to them. But Sir Horace didn't seem to mind. "This . . . Is the best present I could possibly have, " he said. He sat down on a chair in the corner and carefully propped up the sword beside him. I am sure I heard him sniff, although Wanda says he can't have, because ghosts don't cry-- but I don't see how she is such an expert. On the way upstairs to our Sunday bed- room, we saw something really odd. A long trail of our green string came out from under the secret passage door and went all the way downstairs and into the broom closet. "That's our string, " yawned Wanda.

    "I wonder what it's doing there?" But I was too sleepy to answer.

    The next morning we followed the string down to the broom closet. We wanted to say a proper happy birthday to Sir Horace. "Good morning, Sir Horace, " we said. "Many happy returns of the day. " Sir Horace sounded puzzled. "But it is you who have had the happy returns, " he said. He was still sitting in the corner with the sword propped up beside him, but now there was a big pile of rust by his feet. We hardly recognized the sword from the night before--it was gleaming. The handle was shiny, and the patterns that we had seen under the rust looked beautiful and shone with inlaid gold.

    There was a huge ruby set into the top (which Sir Horace called the pommel) and two smaller ones set into the sides. The blade was a bit jagged, though-- you could tell that Sir Horace had done a lot of fighting with it--but he had polished it so well that it was now smooth, glittering steel. "'Morning Minty, Wanda, " said Uncle Drac, yawning. "Sleep well?" "Yes, thank you, Uncle Drac, " we said. "Good, " said Uncle Drac, "because I didn't. That ridiculous sword. I told Sir H to go and scrape the rust off somewhere else, but he sat here all night, scrape, scrape, scrape. Set my teeth on edge something rotten. " "Sorry, Uncle Drac, " I said. "Don't worry about it, Minty. " Uncle Drac smiled. "It's worth it just to have you both -140- home safe and sound. Pass me my knitting, will you?" I gave Uncle Drac his long green scarf. It was just as I had thought. Uncle Drac was Q knitting our green string. "Do you know why your yarn feels really scratchy, Uncle Drac?" I asked him. "I blame Big Bat, " Uncle Drac grumbled. "I was knitting so fast yesterday--after you and Wanda disappeared--that I ran out of wool. I told the dumb bat to find me some more green wool and he came back with this old stuff. Don't know where he found it. " "We do, " we said.

    That afternoon, Sir Horace had his birthday party. It was a great party, even though it wasn't a surprise. Wanda had gone down the secret passage all on her own to find Edmund and ask him to the party.

    I was amazed, as I thought she didn't like the secret passage because of all the spiders. But Wanda said that she didn't care what was in there anymore, as long as it wasn't seaweed. We all squeezed into the broom closet and sang "Happy Birthday to You, " then Sir Horace bowed and sang "Happy Birthday" back to us. Barry's frogs did what Barry called their famous frog pyramid, which just looked like a pile of frogs to me. Then Barry tried to make Uncle Drac disappear--but all that happened was Uncle Drac got covered in blue disappearing dust and started to sneeze. Brenda did a weird tap dance while spinning some plates on sticks, but all the plates fell off when Uncle Drac gave a really big sneeze and everyone went "Eurgh!"

    But the best part was when Aunt Tabby and Brenda brought in the five-hundredth birthday cake. It was huge--it had to be to fit all the candles. The candles were so hot that the icing melted, but the cake tasted great all the same. After that Sir Horace fell asleep, so we all tiptoed out and left Uncle Drac to listen to his snores.

    Sir Horace was happy after his birthday. He stopped hiding away and even started hum- ming as he walked through the house, which was not such a good thing, as we got a little tired of Sir Horace humming "Happy Birthday to You" all the time--but at least we could hear him coming now. Uncle Drac carried on knitting while his legs got better. Wanda and I got Uncle Drac a whole pile of new green yarn, and now we both have really weird, lumpy green scarves.

    It took Barry a whole week to get brave enough to tell Uncle Drac about Old Morris and the bat poo, and he was really surprised when Uncle Drac said he didn't care--he was going into the scarf-knitting business. Wanda snorted and said, "Lumpy scarf- knitting business, you mean. " Brenda let us keep the green string, as it was all ragged from where Big Bat had chewed it off the door. So we wound it up and hung it on the inside of the secret passage door--ready for the next time.


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