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The pain in Harry's head was so bad he fell to his knees. It took a minute or two to pass. When he looked up, the figure had gone. A centaur was standing over him, not Ronan or Bane; this one looked younger; he had white-blond hair and a palomino body.
"Are you all right?" said the centaur, pulling Harry to his feet.
"Yes –– thank you –– what was that?"
The centaur didn't answer. He had astonishingly blue eyes, like pale sapphires. He looked carefully at Harry, his eyes lingering on the scar that stood out, livid, on Harry's forehead.
"You are the Potter boy," he said. "You had better get back to Hagrid. The forest is not safe at this time –– especially for you. Can you ride? It will be quicker this way.
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Is it a dummy pronoun, and "this way" the semantic subject?

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I think not. To my mind, it refers to "get back to Hagrid", which is the immediate concern and objective.

Getting back will be quicker this way.

Observe that the ordinary form of a cleft sentence employing it is

It BEtensed 3sg SUBJECT Subordinate clause

That would give you something like

It will be quicker [[for us] to X] this way.

X must be either a VP, either the actual VP meant or something anaphoric, something which refers to a previous VP. You might for instance replace X with do it

It will be quicker to do it this way.

But in that case you still have an it; do it there is, again, equivalent to get back to Hagrid.

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  • This is how I read it too, but I am not able to say what is wrong with "This way is quicker." I would understand it as "Riding is quicker." Maybe it's simply that both are fine, but "It is quicker this way." is not how "This way is quicker." would be rephrased. – kiamlaluno Aug 2 '13 at 12:13
  • @kiamlaluno Yes. In A) This way is quicker, this way is a nominal. In B) It is quicker this way, this way is an adverbial. A) is a paraphrase of B, not a restructuring. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 2 '13 at 15:16

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