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This obsessive focus on perfection can leave Rowling a little unavailable to those around her. She tells the story of a conversation she had with her younger sister--Di, 38--about Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, who Di feels sometimes lacks compassion for his charges. "She said, 'That's like you.' And I said, 'What's that supposed to mean?' As sisters do. And she said, 'Well, you are kind of detached.' That was, you know, uncomfortable, and probably quite illuminating. I maybe wouldn't find it as easy as she does to say, 'That person is my very best friend in the world.'"
Rowling is about to say goodbye to a very good friend: Half-Blood Prince is book six of a planned seven, and then that's all she wrote. "I'll be so sad to think I'll never write a Harry-Ron-Hermione sentence again," she says. But her feelings aren't entirely unmixed. "Part of me will be glad when it's over. Family life will become more normal. It will be a chance to write other things."
Hang on--other things? It's disconcerting to think of Rowling stepping out on Harry and the gang with another set of characters. But at least we can say Harry is Rowling's last wizard. From here on out, it's Muggles only. "I think I can say categorically that I will not write another fantasy after Harry," she says, making herself and her publicists, who hover nearby, visibly nervous. "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." Beyond that, she isn't giving away many clues, but she's approaching the project with her usual ruthless skepticism. "We'll have to see if it's good enough to be published. I mean, that is a real concern, obviously, because the first thing I write post Harry could be absolutely dreadful, and, you know, people will buy it. So, you know, you're left with this real insecurity."
But future insecurities can wait. Rowling still has book seven to worry about. She has already started writing. "It will be a very different kind of book," she says, "because I kind of cue up the shot at the end of six, and you're left with a very clear idea of what Harry's going to do next."
"And," she adds in an uncharacteristic moment of hubris, "it will be exciting!" Then she immediately retreats into self-deprecation. "You don't know! You might read six and think, Ah, I won't bother."
But that, for once, is pure fantasy. Obviously. •