"Not particularly," Radcliffe says when asked if he's nervous. "No, no, no, not at all! The reason I'm looking around is 'cause I always like to clock where everybody is in terms of who's recognized me. 'Cause they try to be subtle and they never are."

What's the latest count?

"Well, there were those two Japanese girls, and that couple over there, and those other two girls, and that mother and daughter . . . "

Like any maturing child star, Daniel Radcliffe is carefully plotting his career after he leaves the role that made his name. Two things make his case unusual: (1) He may be the most eerily adult such actor since a post-Taxi Driver Jodie Foster, and (2) that character happens to be the most popular literary hero since the invention of the printing press.

The seven Harry Potter books have sold more than 400 million copies. They have been translated into 67 languages. They've made their author, J.K. Rowling, the highest-earning novelist in history. And they've spawned the top-grossing film series of all time, which has earned Harry Potter's cinematic representative a fortune the London Times this year estimated to be $39.7 million. Having just signed a contract for $50 million to see Harry Potter through to graduation, Radcliffe is tied with the ubiquitous Miley Cyrus on Forbes' "Hollywood's Top-Paid Tweens" list. Today he occupies a sphere of fame, wealth, and public imagining that approaches the supernatural. Escaping Harry Potter may be his biggest magic trick of all.

We first meet in the hotel lounge, a book-lined nook with Edwardian aspirations: Beaux Arts shelves, a carved-wood fireplace, tables for chess and backgammon. The vibe is somewhere between Kipling-era smoking room and Oxford-don study an effect that's amplified when Hogwarts' own bursts in and takes a seat at the cribbage table. When Radcliffe marvels at the surfeit of ice in his glass, I counsel him to order booze neat when he's old enough.

"Well, I am old enough to drink," he says with mock indignation. "But not in this country, apparently." Ever since Equus added a kinky twist to the end of one of the most well-attended puberties of the decade, Radcliffe's passage into adulthood has been the stuff of feverish speculation. For the record, Master Radcliffe does drink in moderation and in private. Vodka and Diet Coke is his cocktail of choice, he says, "'cause I'm a pansy-ass civilian." Also for the record, he celebrated reaching Britain's age of consent, 16, almost three years ago, in the customary manner, with an older girlfriend. The age difference "wasn't ridiculous," he says. "But it would freak some people out."

Maybe because he's surrounded by people at least twice his age, Radcliffe tends to date older women. He's currently single, although he explains that this is primarily due to time constraints. "Most of my friends have been girls, and I see how they are with their boyfriends and I think, I couldn't do that," he says. "I just don't have the time."