It is what one might refer to as their "big break".
Alright, there is absolutely no "might" about it. They're playing fucking WARPED in November. They're all hanging around Liam's apartment, throwing ideas for new material and chips at each other, when the call comes. Louis takes it and waves impatiently for them to be quiet.
"Alright, I'll put you on speaker, hang on," he says and presses a few buttons, putting his phone down in the middle of the circle they form.
And then their manager tells them "congrats, boys, you're playing at Warped". There's not a sound from any of them. Just Louis rushing to confirm that they heard, yeah, thank you, yes, we'll go over the details another time, yes, you have a lovely weekend as well, see you on Monday in the studio, yes, bright and early. He hangs up and still none of the other four have said anything.
"Did he just say we're playing Warped?" Niall asks. It is a bit of big deal.
"Yeah, pretty sure he did," Louis confirms, hand reaching out for the two boys flanking him automatically. Harry and Zayn slip their fingers through his, squeezing. There's another three seconds of silence and then they all explode into a mess of cheers and shouts and hugs and there are limbs and happy boys and chips all over the goddamn floor.
On Monday they barrel into their manager like a hurricane, burying him in an octopus hug (well, octopus plus two extra arms and one or two legs) and he laughs at them and tells them he's been quite worried at their lack of initial reaction but that he can see everything's fine now. Everything's better than fine.
They play a series of other festivals over the summer. Some are bigger, with multiple stages and slot times and people who wave at you frantically if your set goes into overtime and some are smaller with only a few hundred people listening to the weirdest, loudest bands who all pour their heart and soul into each and every song. It's a weird summer for them, going back and forth between the low-key stages and crowds they're used to and the bigger, more recognisable ones they've not been welcome at so far. It's like finally getting to move away from the kid's table at family gatherings, but only if there's enough room at the dinner table.
One thing that comes along with the bigger festivals are the backstage interviews. So far, they've only ever given a few, and most of them for magazines, not blogs or even TV shows, small as they may be. They're stupidly excited for all of them, even if they learn the patterns quickly.
"So, how did you guys find each other?" At college and uni and by sheer bloody chance, in Niall's case, which was really their luck and not his because he's the best guitarist they have and they know it.
"Was there ever any fighting over the roles in the band?" No. Liam likes being in charge and hammering out the beat of their songs at his drum kit, Niall and Louis fly around the stage in their manic guitar solos and Zayn is almost comically relaxed on his bass until that moment his switch seems to flick and he really lets go and gets into it. And Harry, well. For one thing he can't play an instrument to save his life but for another, his raspy, deep voice has a range that makes pop producers cry silently into their pillows and try and seduce him away a little less silently. He belts their lyrics out with a reckless abandon that leaves everyone just a little in awe of him. They all like where they are and they all know it's where they're supposed to be, where they're needed to make this work. They want this to work more than anything.
"Who came up with the name, Only Direction?" Harry.
"No one would ever guess you were in a punk band, Niall. How come?"
They all laugh at the question, except for Niall, who just shrugs. It's true. Niall with his sunny bleach blond hair, not a single piercing or tattoo and laid back clothes looks out of place amongst them.
"Niall's the most punk rock of all of us," Harry says, cherry red lips (and no one's ever sure if it's make up or because he bites them or just happened to be sucking on a red popsicle) pulled in a wide grin and fingers pulling at the hole in his jeans over his knee.
"Yep, that's true," Louis agrees and slings an arm around Niall's shoulders, a tear in his shirt showing a flash of black ink underneath. "He just does whatever the fuck he wants."
"No interested in tattoos," he says on a shrug, expression bored like he really doesn't give a fuck. It's because he doesn't. This interviewer is as charmed by them as almost all of them and they all shake hands and wish her a lovely rest of her day before racing each other back to their tour bus where the beer is waiting.
(It's not entirely true. Niall does have one small tattoo. A little screw on his ankle to match the screws all the other four boys have because screw expectations, screw the establishment, screw doing what you're told. That's something Niall can get behind. That and his boys. So why not, he'd thought. Screw not having any tattoos.)
At one festival there's suddenly a pretty brunette on Louis' arm.
"This is Eleanor. She has a headache so I offered her a bunk," he says by manner of explanation and leads her past them into their bus that probably smells of alcohol and grease and five boys living together for two months. It's probably not the best place to rest if you have a headache. Eleanor waves at them, her mouth drawn in a tense line, so the headache either isn't a lie or she's a good actress. They try to tone it down a bit, but they're still working on new material and the band always comes first, that's their rules. Louis knows that, so Liam continues hammering against the upside down bucket he's sitting on and Niall and Zayn continue strumming while Harry belts out lines to see how they go with the music. He forgets to be a bit quieter after the first ten minutes, when he finally feels like they're getting somewhere. They all feel the energy crackling and they get through a chorus that splits Harry's lips in a manic grin because it's exactly what this song needs to sound like.
They all stop on the same breath and a decidedly loud, decidedly feminine half shriek, half moan falls into the sudden silence. They share stunned looks before collapsing into laughter
"That would be epic on a recording," Harry says, apparently a little too excitedly since it's quickly followed by a shouted "fuck off, Haz" from inside the bus.
Eleanor stays around.
In late August Zayn is fucking on at one of their shows, so much so, that they worriedly ask him if he's actually on something afterwards. During though, they get swept up in it, feed on his energy and throw their own back at him. When Louis swings his guitar onto his back and steps up to the mic in front of him to belt half the bridge back at Harry, Harry makes an executive decision to pull him close and share his own instead. He grabs Louis around the shoulders and Louis grabs back and he twirls them around the stage to Liam's three-quarter beat, dizzy with life and music and love and the world spinning around them while they throw lyrics back and forth at each other. At least Harry hopes that's what they're doing. He's not entirely sure.
(The real reason for Zayn's energy was their celebrity audience that night. Not that any of the other boys knew, but Zayn had run into Little Mix's Perrie that afternoon and been trying his very best to impress her.)
The "Only Direction Waltz" ends up a bit of a viral thing. Eleanor is fucking delighted that Louis remembers his ballroom dancing class and demands repeat performances every chance she gets. Harry cheers them on and grabs Niall or Liam or Zayn or any unsuspecting person close enough to join in whenever they can. At one particularly long slot, where they're told the band scheduled to go on after them are having issues and to stretch their set, Harry teaches the entire audience to waltz. It's the loveliest and most bizarre thing he's ever seen, hundreds of people twirling to Liam's beat and Louis and his voices. That video goes even more viral.
It's September when Zayn calls a pub crawl and brings Perrie who brings her band mates. To say that all their chins hit the floor would be a bit of an understatement. Eleanor immediately falls into a discussion of Leigh-Anne's dress with her while the boys pester Zayn for the whole story and hit him upside the head a few times for not telling them sooner. They do all buy pints of beer and, later on, shots for the happy couple though.
Jesy laughs at Harry and calls him a little boy when he tries to get her to come home with him, or at the very least dance with him. It's a shame too. She has a wild, crackling energy to her, loud and boisterous in the exact way that makes Harry itch to know how deep her nails would sink into his back and how loudly he could make her scream if he really tried.
They somehow forget about the biggest fucking gig of their fucking career until they're backstage.
"Shit," Louis says, bent over, clutching his knees and trying to breath. Liam's palm rests between his shoulder blades, centring himself by centring him. Zayn shuts them out completely and Niall looks ready to throw up. Harry, somehow, is buzzing, filled to the brim with energy and needs to get on that stage in the next 30 seconds or he fears he'll explode.
"Guys," he says and then again, louder, when they ignore him, "Guys, hey!"
Louis looks up and Zayn opens his eyes.
"Fuck it. Fuck the audience and fuck the label. Come on. It's punk. It's about freedom and expression and being the best we can and not what anyone wants us to be, so can we please just get on that fucking stage and mess shit up?"
Louis's the first to grin, always the most attuned to Harry's energy.
"Yeah. Let's do this shit."
Harry grins back and then they all huddle close together before storming on stage, slamming into the wall of cheers and hoots they're met with, falling into their first song without missing a beat. Harry flies over the stage, singing his heart out, in love with his friends, in love with his life, in love with his music.
"Hello, London!" he yells when the first song's done. "We're Only Direction, this is the Warped Tour and we love you!"
Fuck it. Being in love is totally punk rock.