Not that she flashes it often. Despite her status as one of Britain's richest women, the author of the phenomenally successful Harry Potter novels keeps her Muggle life happily low-key. Now five months pregnant, Joanne K. Rowling, 37, "is relaxed and glowing," says Barbara Murray, stepmother of Rowling's husband of nearly a year, Scottish anesthesiologist Neil Murray, 31. "She's looking so very happy with the new baby coming and the marriage going so well."
Hard to believe that just seven years ago she was a struggling single mother (of Jessica, 9, from her first marriage, to Portuguese journalist Jorge Arantes, 34) who lived in a cramped Edinburgh flat. Now worth an estimated $350 million, Rowling still "has her feet on the ground," says Rosamund de la Hey, her publicist at Bloomsbury Publishing. "She says frequently her life has changed very little in day-to-day ways, apart from the financial security."
Rowling, who has said she is pleased with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hollywood's second take on her boy-wizard series, is still a bit bemused by the hoopla. "I didn't think it would be this mad again, but it is," she said at the film's Nov. 3 London premiere. It's another sequel, however, that has fans fretting. More than two years have passed since the fourth Harry Potter book hit stores, but Rowling has denied suffering writer's block. "I needed to step off the one-book-a-year treadmill," she told The Wall Street Journal in September. Still, the next installment may be ready in a few months. "It shouldn't be too long," she told the BBC on Nov. 3 (the wait, that is, not the book, which may surpass its 734-page predecessor).
These days Rowling makes her revisions in comfier surroundings than the coffeehouses where she scribbled her first manuscript. She recently built an office on the grounds of her 10-bedroom, $2.4 million Victorian mansion in Edinburgh. She and Murray also share a $9.5 million house in London and a home in the Scottish highlands (where they wed last Dec. 26). Though intensely private ("She's Hermione," says Chamber of Secrets producer David Heyman, likening Rowling to her books' studious, serious heroine), she has also thrown herself into charity work, raising funds for a multiple sclerosis group and another favorite cause: single moms. "They do the most demanding job in the world," she told Salon in 1999.
She should know. "The most important thing in her life isn't Harry Potter but Jessica Rowling," says Sean Smith, author of an unauthorized Rowling biography. "Jessica was her motivation through the most difficult years." After her one-year marriage to Arantes ended in 1993, Rowling, a native of Sodbury, England, scraped by with help from public assistance before her first novel took off in 1997. In 2000 she skipped a ceremony at which she was to receive the prestigious Order of the British Empire from the Queen to watch Jessica's school Nativity pageant. (She later picked up her OBE from Prince Charles.)
Having a sibling "will be lovely for Jessica as she will have, for the first time, a real family unit," says Rowling's father-in-law, Ernest Murray. "She's very excited." For Rowling, it's the perfect plot twist. "The settled family life was something that was really missing from her life," says Smith. "I think she deserves all the domestic bliss that she gets."
Nina Biddle, Caris Davis and Sophia Hemphill in London and Marianne Stochmal in New York City