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Despite generally being considered inescapable, Azkaban prison has seen at least five occasions in which prisoners have escaped. One of these mass-breakouts was done so with the help of Dementors. However, only one person has ever escaped without any outside help. Though it is possible that Rodolphus Lestrange also escaped unaided.
From when Azkaban was first used, by the insistence of Minister for Magic Damocles Rowle, as a wizarding prison, no breakouts have occurred for nearly 300 years due to the Dementors depriving their prisoners of their magical capabilities and sanity.
The 1982 Azkaban escape occurred shortly after Barty Crouch Jr, Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan Lestrange were sentenced to life imprisonment for the torture and permanent incapacitation of the Aurors Frank and Alice Longbottom. At the trial, Bartemius Crouch Snr, Barty’s father, was one of the judges. Barty begged his father to set him free, but Crouch Snr felt betrayed by his son and thought he deserved to be punished and imprisoned. He gave his son a life term in Azkaban.
However, Barty’s mother, already dying at the time, persuaded her husband to use Polyjuice Potion to switch her for their son, in case any of the prisoners were watching through their cells. The Dementors, being blind, could not tell the difference. They only recognised a healthy person and a dying person (Barty Snr and his wife) entering the fortress, and a healthy person and a dying person (Barty Snr and his son) leaving. Mrs Crouch, disguised as Barty, died a few days later and was buried outside the fortress still bearing her son's appearance. Crouch Snr never retrieved his wife's body as it would reveal the jailbreak.
This was the first known escape in the history of Azkaban, though it was not known to the public until thirteen years later. Once his escape was exposed and he was recaptured, he suffered the Dementor's Kiss which Cornelius Fudge deemed a worthy punishment.
In 1993, Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban after seeing Scabbers in a Daily Prophet article of the paper Cornelius Fudge gave him in July 1993, recognising him as his traitorous former friend Peter Pettigrew. By 1 August, Black took advantage of his extreme weight loss to slip through his cell door in his Animagus dog form (which was unregistered, thus the Ministry did not take preparations against) while the Dementors were bringing in his food and swam across the North Sea to find Pettigrew. Black was able to maintain his sanity due to his knowledge of his innocence, a non-happy thought that the Dementors could not take. It was only this that allowed him to maintain his powers to transform, and what made the escape possible.
This escape was the only known unaided escape, and officially the first one in Azkaban history (until Barty Crouch Jr's escape was revealed). Black was facing the Dementor's Kiss as punishment should he ever be recaptured, though he ultimately eluded the Ministry, and his name was cleared shortly after his murder at the hands of his own Death Eater cousin Bellatrix Lestrange in the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, in the year of 1996.
1996 mass breakout
- "We have confirmed that ten high-security prisoners, in the early hours of yesterday evening, did escape. And of course, the Muggle Prime Minister has been alerted to the danger. We strongly suspect that the breakout was engineered by a man with personal experience in escaping from Azkaban; notorious mass murderer Sirius Black, cousin of the escapee Bellatrix Lestrange."
- —Cornelius Fudge interview to the Daily Prophet about the Azkaban mass breakout[src]
In January 1996, a mass breakout from Azkaban set ten long-imprisoned Death Eaters loose. Lord Voldemort had little trouble arranging this, as many of the Dementors were happy to oblige his dark whims. Cornelius Fudge, who was at the time refusing to believe that Voldemort could have returned and leading the Ministry of Magic in a campaign to discredit Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter for trying to prove the claim, expressed to the Daily Prophet the Ministry's fear that Sirius Black was responsible for the incident due to his family tie with one of the Death Eater escapees, Bellatrix Lestrange, either unaware of or neglecting the fact that Black was actually disowned by his family for going against their pure-blood supremacy and favouring the blood-traitorous Potter family, and both cousins have been sworn enemies ever since.
These ten were considered to be some of the most dangerous and highly guarded convicts due to their crimes being legendary. The escapees were high security prisoners being held on the top most floors of the prison and were sentenced to life within the walls of the fortress. Most of the escapees, as well as a few other Death Eaters, would be returned to prison after the Battle of the Department of Mysteries with the exception of Bellatrix Lestrange, who eluded capture with the continued aid of Lord Voldemort by Dissaparating with him after the Duel with Dumbledore and Potter in the Ministry Atrium, but not before they were seen by the entire Ministry of Magic. With no other choice, Fudge was forced to accept and announce that Voldemort has indeed returned, as well as the Dementors' revolt.
- Three other Death Eaters
First 1997 mass breakout
Second 1997 mass breakout
On 1 August, 1997, the Ministry of Magic was taken by the Death Eaters and Pius Thicknesse (under the influence of the Imperius Curse) was made Minister for Magic. The newly reformed Ministry hosted another mass breakout. Those who escaped were falsely cleared and some went on to work at the Ministry of Magic. Travers, who had been recaptured in August, was a known escapee.
Sometime around 2020, Rodolphus Lestrange, convicted Death Eater who has escaped twice from the mass breakouts, has made his third escape from Azkaban. He was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes of using the Cruciatus Curse on Alice and Frank Longbottom, so he was not eligible for release. How he achieved the escape is not revealed (though by the time the prison has already been purged of Dementors, thus his powers have not been drained by their depressive presences), but he reached Delphini to inform her of her heritage and destiny.
Behind the scenes
- Prior to the repeated mass breakouts, the apparent punishment for escaping Azkaban (a feat that all would consider impossible to begin with) is the Dementor's Kiss, as it was noted that Sirius was to suffer it should he be recaptured. Barty Crouch Jr indeed suffered such a fate, though it was mostly a result of Cornelius Fudge's lack of control over the Dementor he took as security escort.
- Albus Dumbledore claimed, when Fudge attempted to arrest him, that he could easily break out of Azkaban if he desired, though he considered it a waste of time; that he would much rather resist arrest than being sent there only to escape.
- In the video game adaption of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as the player assumes the role of Sirius Black to duel Bellatrix Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy alongside a now computer-controlled Harry, he shouts to Bellatrix that Escaping Azkaban were you worst move yet!, while Tonks can be heard while duelling Death Eaters in the background that You are going back to Azkaban, where you belong!
- In the second video game adaption of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Molly Weasley mentions Bellatrix Lestrange's last escape, You will regret the day you escaped from Azkaban, as one of the randomly spoken lines in their duel.
- To date, Sirius Black is the only individual known to escape Azkaban without any outside help.
- Cho Chang noted that it was odd that dozens of Dementors were present after Sirius escaped, and none were present after the 1996 mass break out. Harry took this as a sign that the Dementors were likely outside of Ministry control, as they weren't looking for the escapees.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (First mentioned)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (film) (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (video game) (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Appears in flashback(s))
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (film) (Appears in flashback(s))
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (film) (First appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (video game) (Appears in photographs)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (video game) (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter: The Character Vault (mentioned only)