“Wait, now I’m panicking. Oh, my God! Yes, I’m sure I can say that. I think I will have exhausted the possibilities of that. For me,” Rowling tells TIME book critic Lev Grossman, who interviewed Rowling at home in Edinburgh.
Grossman’s review: “For true believers, Half-Blood Prince will be pure pleasure…Harry’s adult readers, this one included, tend to want Rowling’s novels to Mean Something, and in this somewhat transitional book there are too few ingredients in the cauldron for it to come to a boil. But if there’s an abiding preoccupation here it’s love: Love both requited and un-, love misplaced, perverted, denied, repressed and obsessive.”
TIME also delivers a sneak peak at November’s film release of Book Four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which director Mike Newell says is “actually about Harry becoming Harry.” And in a “Spoiler Alert,” TIME anticipates questions to be answered by Rowling’s next and last volume, such as, “Will Harry finally get a girl?” “Will Ron and Hermione become a couple?” “What exactly is the link between Harry and Voldemort?”
Rowling tells TIME she doesn’t especially like fantasy novels. “I was trying to subvert the genre,” Rowling tells TIME. “Harry goes off into this magical world, and is it any better than the world he’s left? Only because he meets nicer people. Magic does not make his world better, significantly. The relationships make his world better. Magic in many ways complicates his life.”
It wasn’t until after Sorcerer’s Stone was published that it occurred to Rowling that she’d written a fantasy. “You know, the unicorns were in there, there was the castle, God knows. But I really had not thought that that’s what I was doing. And I think maybe the reason that it didn’t occur to me is that I’m not a huge fan of fantasy,” Rowling tells TIME. She has never read through The Lord of the Rings or all of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia novels, TIME reports.
Rowling tells TIME she was already started writing the seventh and final planned Harry Potter novel. “It will be a very different kind of book. Because I kind of cue up the shot, you know, at the end of six, and you’re left with a very clear idea of what Harry’s going to do next.
Rowling speaks to TIME on:
The end of the series: “I’ll be so sad to think I’ll never write a Harry-Ron-Hermione sentence again. Part of me will be glad when it’s over. Family life will become more normal at that point. It will be a chance to write other things,” she tells Grossman.
She is insecure about what she will write after Harry Potter. “We’ll have to see if it’s good enough to be published, I mean, that’s a real concern, obviously, because the first thing I write post-Harry could be absolutely dreadful,” admits Rowling, “and, you know, people will buy it. So, you know, you’re left with this real insecurity.”
Harry and sex: Harry and his friends are 16 in the new book. “Because of the demands of the adventure that Harry is following, he has had less sexual experience than boys of his age might have had,” Rowling tells TIME. “But I really wanted my heroes to grow up. Ron’s hormones get fuller play in Book Six. Basically, it dawns on Ron that Hermione’s had some action, Harry’s had some action, and he’s never got close!”
As a moral educator to the millions of children who read her books: “I don’t think that it’s at all healthy for the work for me to think in those terms. So I don’t,” she tells TIME.
On writing the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: “Goblet—oh, my God. That was the period where I was chewing Nicorette. And then I started smoking again, but I didn’t stop the Nicorette. And I swear on my children’s lives, I was going to bed at night and having palpitations and having to get up and drink some wine to put myself into a sufficient stupor.”
How her focus on perfection can leave her unavailable: Rowling tells TIME her younger sister Di has pointed out Rowling can be like Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, who sometimes lacks compassion for his charges. When her sister explained, “You are sort of detached,” Rowling tells TIME she felt “uncomfortable.”