Welcome to the Restricted Section
Books have always been a huge focal point in the Harry Potter series, and this is something that I both love and attribute to J.K. Rowling’s love of them herself. We see Hermione use and reference books constantly, which can be understood as a complete reflection of Rowling’s personal interests. Throughout the series, we’re introduced to a number of different types of books and are constantly reminded of their importance; from the book that almost ate Neville (think Prisoner of Azkaban, Care of Magical Creatures class), to Tom Riddle’s Diary, to Snape’s copy of Advanced Potion-Making (Half-Blood Prince), to even the Tale of Three Brothers, we are truly shown the importance of books and the information they hold. That being said, there’s one set of books that I think has been purposefully left a mystery: those in the Restricted Section.
Ever since finishing the series in 2007, I’ve always wondered about some of the other “Wizarding World’s best kept secrets” that I know must be hidden away in the Restricted Section. It’s something that I think has always been portrayed as this huge, unexplained wealth of uncommon knowledge, and J.K. has done nothing short of an awesome job giving us little insights along the way. Take the mention of Horcruxes in Magick Moste Evile, for example. In the introduction to this “restricted” book, Hermione mentions to Harry in Half-Blood Prince that the only mention of Horcruxes is surrounding the fact that the book “will not discuss Horcruxes” on account of how evil they are. But what other magic isn’t discussed? More importantly, what other magic is discussed, in that very book and others like it?
So let’s piece together what we know about the Restricted Section. For one, we know it’s in the very back of the Hogwarts Library, and we know that only a rope separates this section from the rest. At first read, to me this seems almost cruel to any student with a “burning desire for knowledge.” Was this Rowling’s intent, to make the Restricted Section something of a temptation for students and seemingly so easily accessible? Well, it certainly worked on me! The fact that it’s located within plain sight of any student in the main library is almost tantalizing. We also know there are all kinds of books. Harry describes some of them to have “faded gold letters spell[ing] words in languages Harry couldn’t understand.” Harry goes on to state that some had no title at all and that one had a dark stain on it that looked “horribly like blood.” At this point, I’m hooked; I want to know what’s inside those books, and I want to know now. And of course, as Harry slowly begins to succumb to his curiosity and opens an interesting-looking book, it begins to scream at him, forcing him to run out of the library.
Some other things we know about the Restricted Section: You need a note, signed by a teacher, granting you permission to be in the Restricted Section of the library as told by Hermione to Ron and Harry in Chamber of Secrets. We do see this happen formally a few times throughout the books, like when Harry consults Professor McGonagall in preparation for the second task of the Triwizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire and when Hermione gets Professor Lockhart to sign a permission slip when looking for a Polyjuice Potion recipe in Chamber of Secrets. I do have to say, I am truly impressed by both Harry and Hermione’s self-discipline since I would absolutely be rifling through every book I could get my hands on (maybe not the ones that scream or bite, though…). However, we know this “note of permission” policy can be broken (fairly simply I should add) by using magic. We see this demonstrated in Sorcerer’s Stone when Harry uses his Invisibility Cloak to sneak into the Restricted Section during the night to research Nicolas Flamel. By this I’m actually very surprised. Shouldn’t the Restricted Section have some sort of detective magic or force field, like the Triwizard Tournament Goblet in Goblet of Fire?
We’re also able to note that there is absolutely no food allowed in the library, which I assume includes the Restricted Section. Now, this could be a general school rule (I’m sure we’ve all had our fair share of “no chewing gum” and things like that), but I wonder if there’s more to this than meets the eye. In Order of the Phoenix, Madam Pince catches Harry and Ginny eating a chocolate egg in the library and exclaims, “Chocolate in the library! Out—out—OUT!” She does something similar when she spots Harry with a completely annotated version of Advanced Potion-Making (which we know to be Snape’s copy) in Half-Blood Prince. I think the theme of ensuring books are properly taken care of is definitely played with by Rowling to add to the idea that books are to be valued and are important. Aside from this, though, I think there might be something else here. Do these books feel defilement? Rowling has played with this idea multiple times in the series, with another example being the bewitched necklace meant for Dumbledore (poor Katie Bell), which in itself plays on the theme of temptation; even further than that, the process by which Voldemort was created and ultimately defeated was ironically the defilement of objects (both in their creation and destruction). The defilement of objects seems to be a big re-occurring theme throughout the books, which is highlighted in particular in the dialogue between Harry and Helena Ravenclaw regarding the Lost Diadem in Deathly Hallows.
In summation, we see many-an-answer to the problems presented to the famous trio hidden in books. Books have been a huge piece of the Potter series, mainly portrayed as guides or references, stressing the importance of knowledge and intelligence. But what about the books in the Restricted Section, whose contents are left a mystery to us? What other undiscovered areas of magic are out there? What sort of things are there left unexplored in the pages of those books in the Restricted Section? Perhaps these are some of the questions that originally led Tom Riddle to this very area in the library. And while I will always admire that J.K. Rowling impressed the importance of books onto her readers in so many different ways throughout the series, I think I’ll always wonder about the mysteries she has decided to keep hidden away in the shelves of the Restricted Section.