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Transparency and billboard questions

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I've recently begun learning about alpha blending and other transparency techniques in directX, and I've spent an hour or so searching this forum and the net about the topic, but can't seem to find an answer to this particular question. I'm trying to do a simple smoke technique using a texture on transparent billboards. I can make them fade out by changing the alpha component of the vertices' diffuse value, but the black box around the texture is still visible the whole time. I've tried putting an alpha channel into the texture ( and saving it as a 32-bit bitmap in photoshop) but I can't seem to get that to work. And even if it did, how would I be able to fade it out at the same time? This is a pretty common technique, I imagine, so there's probably a simple solution I'm not seeing. thanks.

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