Harry Potter and the midnight sale

Tomáš Palko

Many of us have already read it and the fact that it is a half-blood (a published rehearsal script) surprisingly did not matter. Yes, I am talking about The Cursed Child, a new book by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffani and Jack Thorne. The English version has been out for some time, but release of the Czech translation was planned for 24th September.

I work in a book store in the centre of Brno, and when I found out that there would be a midnight pre-sale, I instantly volunteered. I had some previous nocturnal experiences, but only from a customer’s point of view, so I was pretty excited about finding out what it was like on the other side of the barricades.

The number of pre-orders was growing by the day. On the day of the event they could be counted in hundreds in the e-shop (the department I work in) alone.

But there were a few things working against us.

First, it was a Friday night, and in Brno Fridays are reserved for other social activities. Second, it was almost ten years since the publication of The Deathly Hallows, and the people that used to enjoy this kind of event, wearing costumes and waiting relentlessly in front of book stores, were ten years older; now they probably had rather different priorities. Would the new generation of Potter fans be crazy enough to come? When I arrived at 10.00 pm there was a suggestion of a crowd in front of the public entrance to the shop. To be honest it was more a bunch of people than an actual crowd, but we had still two hours to go.

Considering the hour it was really lively in the shop. Most of my colleagues were already there and had made all the necessary preparations for the brick-and-mortar shop, so they were enjoying a few hours of peace before the human tsunami to come. Everyone seemed so relaxed. We spent the first hour joking, drinking coffee and telling stories about night sales; most of us had attended them as customers, the more experienced ones as sales staff. Every time a colleague walked in, I bombarded him with a load of questions like, “How many people are waiting outside?” or, “Did you see any pointy hats?” I learned from this credible source of information that the bunch waiting beyond the door really was waiting for the sale and not the tram, and, “Yes, they are growing in number”. I was happy because my biggest nightmare was of an empty book store filled only with the howling of the wind and myself. But it was already11.00 pm, which meant that it was time to prepare the e-shop orders. Preparing the books was not a problem: basically we just piled a few hundred in one place, but sending a few hundred emails to our customers in half an hour was a real feat of time management. We made it just in time: it was almost midnight when we finished. My first time as a midnight salesman was close at hand.

First a cry. “They’re in! And it’s a huge crowd of people.”

Then a second cry. “They’re on the first floor, and they look hungry.”

Then a whisper. “They’re here. Prepare yourselves.”

And then they – she, I mean – came. A cosy-looking young woman approached me with a smile and said that she had ordered the new Harry Potter book. I asked her for the order number, she gave me the order number and I gave her the new Harry Potter book, which she had pre-ordered. We said goodbye to each other and that was it. A few minutes later I was experiencing total recall of my earlier fear about the howling wind and stuff when a new customer appeared, followed by another, another, and after him another. A huge queue formed in front of the cash register. Many people of different kinds and ages and both sexes (but without pointy hats) stood in an orderly line, all of them eager to set out on an adventure with Mr Potter once again. Sadly I had no time to get emotional or nostalgic, as I had to work extremely quickly delivering order after order. The situation was getting out of control. More and more people were arriving and the queue was getting bigger and bigger. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt under such pressure.

Luckily my boss decided to open the second cash register. Then something happened as if by the wave of a magic wand; the moment the second window was opened, all the customers disappeared. After half an hour I closed my serving hatch and went down to look at the customers in the book store. I found colleagues only – no customers. At 01.30 am the event was over. It was a short but intense experience.

The conclusion is that people still love their hero. They love him even as an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, and they are ready to demonstrate it even in midnight.