Ear wax almost prevented Katie Aiani from becoming the Greatest Harry Potter Fan in the World. When the Simi Valley Web designer, now 25, was 11, she wandered into the living room as her dad read a book to her younger sister, Kristy, 7. "All I heard as I walked past the couch was, 'Alas, ear wax,' and something about beans. I was disgusted," Aiani said. "EEEEWWWW, what are you reading?" she asked. It was the final chapter of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," J.K. Rowling's first book about a boy wizard, in which Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, responds after tasting an ear wax-flavored piece of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, a jelly bean-like candy. Kristy Aiani, offended by words of disdain toward "the best book I've ever read," pushed her older sister into her room with the book and said, "You're not coming out until you read this." Katie Aiani, who hated reading, opened the book to the first page ? and never stopped. The next day, she rushed out to buy the second book, which she read aloud to Kristy. And so began 14 years of Potter passion: midnight book releases, camp-outs at movie premieres, treks to Harry Potter conventions, "fan trips" to England and Scotland, Quidditch matches (she played on Moorpark College's team, the Moorpark Marauders), interviews for documentaries about Potter fans (including an extra feature on the Blu-ray for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"), adventures at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Florida, and numerous shopping excursions to Whimsic Alley, the Harry Potter store in Los Angeles. If that level of fandom doesn't impress you, consider this: She's visited a zoo to try to talk with snakes, wants to get married at a Harry Potter film location, has tried every flavor of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, and studied Latin to better understand Rowling's spells, which have names like "Accio." Her website is www.theharrypotterfan.com. Today, Aiani's license plate frame (next to bumper stickers that say "I'd Rather Be Playing Quidditch" and "I Harry Potter"), reads "#1 Harry Potter Fan in the Whole World!" She's definitely earned the title ? officially. In 2010 Aiani won a contest, "101 Reasons I Am the Greatest Harry Potter Fan in the World," and got her list published in Box Office Magazine. Potter paraphernalia No. 2 on the winning list was "My room is 100 percent covered in Harry Potter." She's not exaggerating. Every spare inch houses a piece of Potter book or movie memorabilia. The Harry hodgepodge includes movie posters, magazine and newspaper articles, pillows, blankets, a stuffed owl, a Voldemort doll, Hogwarts banners, Extendable Ears, a sorting hat, signed pictures (she has autographs from all the actors in the films), 100 T-shirts, 25 wands, Quidditch goggles, a Marauder's Map, a caldron, a Gryffindor sword, stickers, scarves, figurines, buttons, the Horcruxes (diary, cup, locket, ring, diadem, snake), hand-painted tennis shoes, and even a Potter-print sundress with a pocket for a wand. And of course, she has the books ? all seven extremely well-worn and well-loved. She's read the stories (and listened to the audiobooks) countless times. Aiani also collects the first book in the series from different countries; her 14-item worldly stash includes books from the Czech Republic, France, Iceland, Korea, Japan and the U.K. "Some girls buy makeup and clothes; I buy Harry Potter stuff," said Aiani, dressed for an interview with The Star in Gryffindor robes and red-and-yellow striped tie and socks, with a replica of Hermione's Time Turner necklace around her neck. She always wears something Potter-related ? jewelry, socks, a pin ? and has a tattoo of a golden snitch (used in the wizard game of Quidditch) on her wrist. Next year, Aiani said, she wants to try to earn a Guinness World Record as the person with the biggest Potter collection. But Aiani's Pottermania runs deeper than collectibles. Fellow Potter fan Jackie Garrecht, Aiani's best friend from New York (they met on a Harry Potter fan trip in the U.K. in 2007 that included a ride on the train used as the Hogwarts Express in the films), said Aiani is "definitely the most fanatic I've ever met. But that's aside from the merchandise. It really has impacted her life. It IS her life. It means the most to her." Younger sister Kristy said she and Katie, who used to fight, have become close because of their shared passion for the books. "I don't think I could ever put into words what J.K. Rowling did for us," Kristy said. "She gave us purpose, power, strength, friendship, magic and love." Aiani has a simple answer to why Harry Potter has kept her spellbound all these years: "It makes me happy." Plus, she said, "It got me to read. It's given me friends around the world. And Harry Potter has great morals and values for kids and adults. There's just a way for everyone to connect to it." 'Thank you Jo' Recently, Aiani hit a delirious peak of happiness by accomplishing what she calls her "life goal": She met Rowling. No. 53 on Aiani's list of reasons she's the greatest Harry Potter fan was "I would turn down $100,000 just to meet J.K. Rowling." "I wanted to meet and thank her in person," Aiani said. "That was so important to me. I think it's different when you say thank you in an email or letter." The goal had eluded her. Rowling doesn't make a lot of public appearances, especially in the United States. So Aiani figured her best chance to meet her idol was to attend the 2011 premiere of the final movie in the blockbuster series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," in London. She spent a week in pouring cold rain, without a tent or chair, waiting to be one of the first fans on the red carpet. She was No. 30 in a line of what turned into a crowd of about 10,000. Aiani's devotion ? and a sign that said "We are from California" ? led to interviews for British TV shows and newspapers. After Rowling arrived at the premiere, however, the author was whisked away quickly and bypassed most of the fans. "But I never gave up," Aiani said. "I think that's the best thing I've learned for my entire life: to not give up on your dreams. Because my dream has always been to meet J.K. Rowling. She finally got her chance in October, when she learned Rowling would be in New York City to discuss and sign her first novel for adults, "The Casual Vacancy," at Lincoln Center. Tickets were available for 1,000 fans, but the theater's website was hacked, and 2,000 were sold. Aiani, after calling the box office on three different phones, had nabbed two. "It was chaos; I was so stressed out," she said. "Nobody knew which tickets were real, which ones they would honor." Organizers eventually moved the event to a bigger venue after talking to Rowling, who said, "I'm going to sign for every fan." Aiani, as she wended her way through the book signing line, filmed the whole thing using a GoPro sport camera on her shoulder. With her fingernails painted in the Hogwarts house colors (and "Thank you Jo" printed on them), Aiani approached Rowling. Hyperventilating and sobbing, she handed Rowling a letter and said, in one mashed-together string of breathless words, "I'm your biggest fan. Thank you for giving me a purpose in life." Rowling replied, "That means so much to me," signed Aiani's book and took the letter. "I promise you, I will read this," she said. "I couldn't believe I accomplished my life goal at 25," Aiani said. "Now what do I do?" she said, laughing. But the Pottermania hasn't subsided. Aiani was recently filmed for a college student's documentary about Potter fans, and for a TV show about devotees of the series, although she doesn't know the name of the program "because they were very secretive." Perhaps she can work a little magic on her boyfriend of five years. "He hates Harry Potter," she said, laughing. "But he loves Star Wars. And he loves me, and I love him. And I'll always love Harry Potter."
- Yahoo News
Counterintelligence official Michael Orlando joins a growing chorus of voices on both sides of the political aisle who point to China as a major national security threat, particularly in terms of technology and cybersecurity.
Twitter has locked the account of China's U.S. embassy for a tweet that defended China's policy towards Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, which the U.S. social media platform said violated its stand against "dehumanizing" people. China's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it was confused by the move and that it was the embassy's responsibility to call out disinformation and clarify the truth. The Chinese Embassy account, @ChineseEmbinUS, posted a tweet this month that said that Uighur women had been emancipated and were no longer "baby-making machines", citing a study reported by state-backed newspaper China Daily.
- The Week
The evenly split Senate is having a hard time agreeing who's in charge.Georgia's two new Democratic senators were sworn in Wednesday, giving Republicans and Democrats 50 senators each, with Vice President Kamala Harris as a Democratic tiebreaker. The two parties are now working out a power-sharing agreement, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) commitment to the filibuster is standing in the way.McConnell on Thursday formally acknowledged Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the chamber's new majority leader. But as he has been for days, McConnell again implored Democrats to preserve the filibuster that lets a senator extend debate and block a timely vote on a bill if there aren't 60 votes to stop it. Democrats "have no plans to gut the filibuster further, but argue it would be a mistake to take one of their tools off the table just as they're about to govern," Politico reports; More progressive senators do want to remove the option completely.If his filibuster demands aren't met, McConnell has threatened to block the Senate power-sharing agreement that would put Democrats in charge of the body's committees. But Democrats already seem confident in their newfound power, with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) telling Politico that "Chuck Schumer is the majority leader and he should be treated like majority leader." Giving in to McConnell "would be exactly the wrong way to begin," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) echoed.Other Democrats shared their resistance to McConnell's demands in tweets. > McConnell is threatening to filibuster the Organizing Resolution which allows Democrats to assume the committee Chair positions. It's an absolutely unprecedented, wacky, counterproductive request. We won the Senate. We get the gavels.> > -- Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 21, 2021> So after Mitch McConnell changed the Senate rules at a blistering pace during his 6 years in charge, he is threatening to filibuster the Senate's organizing resolution unless the Democratic majority agrees to never change the rules again.> > Huh.> > -- Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 21, 2021More stories from theweek.com 7 brutally funny cartoons about Trump's White House exit Trump's team fired the White House chief usher right before Biden took office, maybe at Biden's request Biden removes Trump's Diet Coke button from the Oval Office
- NBC News
Southlake is known for its top-ranked public schools. But a heated fight over a diversity plan has some parents questioning their future in the city.
- The Telegraph
Thousands of national guardsmen were turfed out of the Capitol building on Thursday and sent to sleep in car parks, before being allowed back in late at night after complaints from lawmakers. Despite the quick reversal, two Republican governors commanded their troops home in protest. US Capitol police had ordered the reservists to vacate the building and set up camp outdoors or in nearby hotels, with thousands ending up stationed outside or in car parks. “Yesterday dozens of senators and congressmen walked down our lines taking photos, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service. Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed,” one of the guardsmen told Politico. The National Guard were brought into the US capital to provide security after Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6.
- Reuters Videos
President Joe Biden signed 15 executive actions on Wednesday hours after he was sworn into office, many aimed at sweeping away former President Donald Trump's policies, including mandating masks on federal property.
The European Union and Turkey pressed each other on Thursday to take concrete steps to improve relations long strained by disagreements over energy, migration and Ankara's human rights record. Turkey, which remains an official candidate for EU membership despite the tensions, is facing the threat of EU economic sanctions over a hydrocarbons dispute with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean, but the mood music between Brussels and Ankara has improved since the new year.
- Yahoo News 360
Recent history shows the opportunity to pass major bills can disappear quickly. What should Democrats’ top priority be?
- Associated Press
The latest jackpot-winning Powerball ticket, worth $731.1 million, was sold in a struggling coal mining town whose biggest previous claim to fame was being the hometown of baseball legend Lefty Grove. The store will get a $100,000 bonus for selling the ticket to the fifth-largest lottery prize in U.S. history. An even larger Mega Millions jackpot will be up for grabs Friday night.
- Architectural Digest
800 feet up in the sky, the Dreamy 6,000 square foot space offers panoramic views from the East River to the HudsonOriginally Appeared on Architectural Digest
The European Parliament called on EU governments to recognise Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president in a resolution on Thursday, after a downgrade of his status by the bloc earlier this month. The EU's 27 states said on Jan. 6 they can no longer legally recognise Guaido as the country's legitimate head of state after he lost his position as head of parliament following legislative elections in Venezuela in December, despite the EU not recognising that vote. The European Parliament "calls on ... the member states to unequivocally recognise the constitutional continuation of the legitimate National Assembly of Venezuela elected in 2015 and the legitimate interim President of Venezuela Juan Guaido", it said.
Beau Biden, who served in the Guard, is buried at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church cemetery in Greenville, Delaware.
- Associated Press
Indonesian authorities on Thursday ended the search for remaining victims and debris from a Sriwijaya Air jet that nosedived into the Java Sea, killing all 62 people on board. Transportation minister Budi Karya Sumadi said retrieval operations have ended after nearly two weeks, but that a limited search for the missing memory unit from the cockpit voice recorder will continue. The memory unit apparently broke away from other parts of the voice recorder during the crash.
- The Independent
Michael Flynn’s brother reveals he was involved in Capitol riot response after Army denied it, report says
Apparent U-turn by Pentagon officials could pose questions about police response
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved Avril Haines as the Director of National Intelligence, the nation's top intelligence job, making her the first of President Joe Biden's nominees to be approved. The vote was 84-10, with all the "no" votes coming from Republicans. Both Democrats and leading Republicans issued statements praising the nominee.
- The Week
Biden urges unity in inaugural speech: 'Politics doesn't have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path'
President Biden returned to a recurring theme Wednesday after he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, calling for unity in his inaugural address."Let's start afresh," Biden said. "Let's begin to listen to one another again. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another."He then added that politics "doesn't have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path" and that while he understands many Americans "view the future with fear and trepidation," the "answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions ... We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts." > President Biden: "Politics doesn't have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated, and even manufactured." https://t.co/1LntlB7T7E pic.twitter.com/Wb8GD7qL3U> > -- CBS News (@CBSNews) January 20, 2021> US President Joe Biden: "We must end this uncivil war, that pits red against blue" | https://t.co/PhIqa0n91w pic.twitter.com/gPeKpKBgVG> > -- RTÉ News (@rtenews) January 20, 2021More stories from theweek.com 7 brutally funny cartoons about Trump's White House exit Biden needs a plan B Biden's team reportedly realized after inauguration that Trump really had no vaccine distribution plan
- Associated Press
In a final swipe at China, the Trump administration’s outgoing U.N. ambassador tweeted that it's time for the world to oppose China’s efforts to exclude and isolate Taiwan, drawing sharp criticism from Beijing. To make the point even more graphic, Ambassador Kelly Craft accompanied the tweet with a photo of herself in the U.N. General Assembly Hall where the island is banned.
A standoff between new U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and the man he replaced, Republican Mitch McConnell, over a core rule of Senate operations has kept the two from reaching a deal on how to manage the 50-50 chamber. Schumer is resisting McConnell's demand for a promise to protect the long-standing Senate rule requiring a supermajority of 60 votes to advance most legislation, known as the legislative filibuster. Their argument is holding up the basic organization and work of the Senate as it begins the new year with 50 senators from each party.
- The Week
President Biden focused his first full day in office on the COVID-19 pandemic, signing another wave of executive orders Thursday aimed at both the virus and its economic toll.One of Biden's 10 new orders is focused on increasing coronavirus vaccine distribution, after his team reportedly found former President Donald Trump's plan lacking. The order centralizes the federal government in distribution by creating vaccination centers in schools and government buildings, and also brings in thousands of federal workers to staff those sites. Biden said 100 of those centers should be open next month.Another order signed Thursday expands on Biden's Wednesday order mandating mask wearing on federal properties, also moving to require them on interstate travel including "planes, trains, and buses." People coming to the U.S. via plane will have to wear masks and test negative for COVID-19 before boarding as a way to stop the spread of new coronavirus variants emerging worldwide, Biden also announced. Other orders are aimed at increasing the number of COVID-19 testing sites throughout the U.S. and reopening schools and businesses.Biden closed out the event by recommitting to his promise of distributing 100 million coronavirus vaccines in his first 100 days in office -- something he denied was too low of a goal, at least for now. > Reporter: You set the goal at 100 million vaccines in your first 100 days? Is that bar high enough? > > President Biden: "When I announced it, you all said it's not possible. C'mon, give me a break, man. It's a good start, one hundred million." pic.twitter.com/xAp5yaPEfH> > -- NBC News (@NBCNews) January 21, 2021More stories from theweek.com 7 brutally funny cartoons about Trump's White House exit Trump's team fired the White House chief usher right before Biden took office, maybe at Biden's request Biden removes Trump's Diet Coke button from the Oval Office
- Associated Press
The supporters of a splinter group in the Nepal Communist Party marched peacefully in the center of Kathmandu as they demanded that Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli reinstate Parliament. Parliament was dissolved on Dec. 20 at the direction of the prime minister and new elections were announced for April 30 and May 10, 2021.