As a young woman living in Gavaldon, Vanessa was, despite her plain features, immensely shallow and self-centred. The only person she deemed worthy of her attention was Stefan, the most handsome and popular boy in the village. Desperate to be loved by him, Vanessa used deception to gain his attention, including befriending his sweetheart, Honora. When all her attempts to seduce Stefan failed, Vanessa wished for the means to steal his heart. Callis, a witch from the School for Evil, arrived in Gavaldon. Feeling that she owed her escape from the School Master to Vanessa, Callis agreed to perform magic to help grant Vanessa her wish in the form of a love potion. Ignoring Callis’ warnings that the potion’s effects only lasted one day, and there would be a price for using it, Vanessa drugged Stefan, and became pregnant shortly afterwards. At the behest of Gavaldon’s council of elders, Vanessa and Stefan were wed.
Although it appeared that her dreams had come true, Vanessa’s happiness was short-lived. The baby she was carrying was stillborn, and all her later attempts to have children were the same. Because of this, Vanessa sadly saw Stefan lose interest in her. Even though Honora was already married to the local butcher, Vanessa feared that Stefan would seek out his old love. To prevent this, Vanessa sought help from Callis yet again. A reluctant Callis gave her a fertility potion and another warning that went unheard. Several months after taking the potion, Vanessa successfully gave birth to twin daughters. One was beautiful like Stefan and one was homely like her. Vanessa told Callis to take the ugly baby to the woods to die, as she feared Stefan would never accept an ugly daughter, but hoped that a child as attractive as he was would save their marriage.
Unfortunately for Vanessa, having a beautiful daughter did not make Stefan love her as she hoped. For the following years, Vanessa used more of Callis’ potions, creams and beauty aids to pretty up herself and Sophie for Stefan, but eventually, she finally realized her feats were in vain, and that his heart would always belong to Honora. In the end, Vanessa died friendless and brokenhearted.
However, her daughter Sophie idolised her seemingly beautiful mother, and throughout the books, Sophie tries to imitate her mother, both in her use of beauty treatments and in her belief that appearances were what mattered most. Sophie only learned the truth about Vanessa, and about being related to Agatha (the supposedly ugly twin whom Callis didn't abandon, but raised as her own child) before the final battle between the School Master's army and Tedros's in The Last Ever After.
- The name "Vanessa" is a genus of butterflies, an insect she is associated with. Initially, Sophie credits this meaning to her mother's beautiful and tragically brief life. However, this better acknowledges her transformation from an unassuming woman to a lovely one with Callis' magic, similar to a caterpillar.