On a normal day, the train is called the Queen of Scots. Today, it is called the Hogwarts Express, the train that transports Harry Potter to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and right now it is at a station in Perth, 90 minutes outside Edinburgh, Scotland. Cottony clouds of steam are billowing out of its engine, a quaint little spectacle for the hundreds of children waiting behind a makeshift gate numbered 9 1/2. It would all be very cute, except for the shrieking that accompanies all that hot air, a piercing and ever-intensifying whistle that is causing the entire crowd to cover their ears, everyone eyeballing that infernal engine, wondering if it's ever going to stop.
And then it does.
And a door opens.
Inside, on this, her last stop in a steam-powered barnstorm of the U.K. in support of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth in her series of books about a most extraordinary young wizard, J.K. Rowling, 35, sits on the edge of a table, greeting a lucky bunch of kids, their faces stony and bloodless from nervous excitement. ''Hello, contest winner,'' says the mock monarch with the dirty-blond hair and blue jeans, her warm smirk packed with affection for these, her subjects. The attendants from Bloomsbury Publishing get one of them to pose for a picture with her. ''Now,'' Rowling says conspiratorially, signing his book, ''pretend like you're thrilled to see me.''
He doesn't need to pretend. But it's all she can do to pretend that none of this is as deliriously mind-boggling as it really is. As she says during a 60-minute chat en route from Edinburgh to Perth, ''You could go crazy thinking about it too much.''
How did you feel about all the marketing hoopla around Goblet?
The marketing was literally Don't give out the book. And it wasn't even a marketing ploy. It came from me. This book was the culmination of 10 years' work, and something very big in terms of my ongoing plot happens at the end, and it rounds off an era; the remaining three books are a different era in Harry's life. Had that got out, there's no way the book would have been as enjoyable to read.
You sat on the title for a long time, too.
The title thing was for a much more prosaic reason: I changed my mind twice on what it was. The working title had got out Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament. Then I changed Doomspell to Triwizard Tournament. Then I was teetering between Goblet of Fire and Triwizard Tournament. In the end, I preferred Goblet of Fire because it's got that kind of ''cup of destiny'' feel about it, which is the theme of the book.
Was this the hardest book you've had to write so far?
The first three books, my plan never failed me. But I should have put that plot under a microscope. I wrote what I thought was half the book, and ''Ack!'' Huge gaping hole in the middle of the plot. I missed my deadline by two months. And the whole profile of the books got so much higher since the third book; there was an edge of external pressure.